Friday, February 3, 2012

How to Turn Your Idea into a Story: More Conflict!

Here are a few more tips on setting up conflict, following last week's lesson:

• What does your main character want? What does he need? Make these things different, and you'll add tension to the story. It can be as simple as our soccer player who wants to practice soccer, but needs to study. Or it could be more subtle, like someone who wants to be protected but needs to learn independence. In the Haunted books, Jon wants to be a regular kid, and fit in, but needs to protect his sister – who gets him into trouble and embarrassing situations. This increases the tension and gives the reader sympathy for my main character. (For a more detailed explanation of character want versus need, exploring the movie ET as an example, see my brother Doug Eboch’s Let's Schmooze blog on Screenwriting, E.T. Analysis Part 11.)

• Even if your main problem is external (man versus man or man versus nature), consider giving the character an internal flaw(man versus himself) that contributes to the difficulty. For a few examples of internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Perhaps your character has a temper, or is lazy, or refuses to ever admit she’s wrong. This helps set up your complications, and as a bonus makes your character seem more real. (We'll discuss characterization in more depth in coming weeks.)

• Before you start, test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view. Change the setting. Change the external conflict. Change the internal conflict. What happens? Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential. For example, my work in progress started with two female cousins visiting. I changed one into a boy, and added a girl friend next door, which made for nice boy/girl tension behind the main plot.

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