Searching for Conflict

As important as character development and plotting may be, without a conflict to drive the story forward – well, there really is no story. So here are some ideas to help you find a page-turning conflict.

Consider what kind of conflict your story will include. Although some may overlap at times, there are seven basic kinds of conflict. You’ll need to know what your driving conflict is as much as you know your characters and the plot. No doubt, your story’s conflict will fit into one of these categories. When planning the conflict for your story consider one of these areas.

  • Man vs. Self – This may arguably be the most intense form of conflict, but yet most can identify with it. Everything rides on the outcome.
  • Man vs. Man – No doubt, this is the most common form of conflict, and the odds are increased as there are more than one person placed at risk – even if that person is the villain of your story.
  • Man vs. Society – A much bigger scope with much to lose if your character is unsuccessful.
  • Man vs. Nature – Raw nature is very powerful and must be overcome by an equal if not superior power to survive.
  • Man vs. Machine – Of course somewhere along the line, a man invented the machine that is causing conflict. It pits intelligence against intelligence. In today’s world, technolgy is hard to beat.
  • Man vs. Fate/Supernatural – This leaves the door opened for so many possibilies. What will be will be – or will it?
  • Man vs. the unknown – Think outer space aliens. Think unexplored wilderness, which may also include nature. Think about the future.

If readers care about the result of your story conflict, they will keep reading to find out what happens. So the obvious question is, What makes readers care? I believe this is the reason your readers will care. The readers identify with your character — in other words, readers imagine themselves in your character’s place. Readers tend to identify with the viewpoint character and feel as if they’re resolving the story’s conflict along with him or her. They’ve not resolved the conflict until your character does.

Here are some ways to turn a character idea into an idea for conflict. And the good thing is you can use these ideas over and over in different combinations to create new characters and conflicts. 

  • Is there something your character desires or wants to accomplish? Imagine that  your character is in a position to obtain his desire, but what are the roadblocks that easily prevent him/her from doing so.
  • Give your character an important goal to reach, and give her/him a deep-seated fear that s/he will have to face to make the goal. 
  • Give your character someone to hate. Then involve the two in a struggle (possibly a struggle that will change both of them).
  • Imagine the opposite. Who is someone your character loves?  Imagine a situation which threatens to cut your character off from this person.  What is the response of your character?
  • Give your character a major weakness. Then involve him a pursuit that if he is to acheive it, s/he must overcome the weakness.
  • Put your character in a situation that s/he doesn’t know about himself  or herself and s/he is about to ruin his or her life, unless the character is capable of making drastic changes.
  • Give your character two or more people to deeply care about. What happens when you introcuce a situation in which your character must choose between one or another.

Give some things a try. Let me know how you make out!

A Little Character Goes a Long Way

Things are back on track. I apologize for not being here the last couple of weeks. I just needed a little time to regroup and get my thoughts straight. Anyway, here are my thoughts for this week. I want to talk to you about making characters lovable.

Most of the time, you want your readers to love your characters with a possible exception being your villain. Let me give you three things that will help your characters be likable in your readers eyes. The simple truth is if your readers care about your characters, they will certainly care about what happens to them, and they’ll feel invested in your story.

You probably don’t want your protagonist coming off as sickening sweet, but we certainly want our readers to like him/her.

Perhaps the obvious way to show off your character as likable is to show them doing something kind for somebody. It could be something as simple as showing sensitivity in a conversation with another character. But if you really want your character to shine, show him giving in a self-sacrificial way. Maybe put him in a position to take a beating for someone else, a physically weaker character – maybe have him take the blame for a crime she didn’t commit to spare someone else the pain of prison. But be careful. Your reader also expects justice to be served.

A second way you might make your character likable is to make him an underdog. Everyone loves an underdog. Page by page you can stack the odds against her, and when she comes shining forth as gold. your readers will love her all the more. A possible twist might allow the character to lose his own life in the process – self-sacrificing kindness and the underdog rolled into one. Samson in the Bible, an underdog at the time, sacrificed his life so justice could be served against his evil antagonists.

Thirdly, giving your character, especially your protagonist, a great ability to love usually endears him/her to your reading audience. Certainly, a romance novel would fit into this category, but I’m talking so much more. Perhaps it could be an inseparable friendship. The biblical Jonathan and David fit into this category. A deep love for animals or pets will also work – but please, no Lassie.

These are just some quick thoughts to get you on your way. See what you can do with the ideas and let me know what you think. Have a great week!

Getting Endorsements for Your Book

Randy Ingermanson

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visihttp://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com

I subscribe to Author Randy Ingermanson’s newsletter. You may want to, too (see the above link). With permission, I’m reprinting his thoughts on book endorsements.

Endorsements are the short blurbs for your book, typically written by other authors, that show up in the front matter for your book and on your book’s sales page on the online retailers. . .

. . . My reason for thinking that endorsements matter is that I have, in the past, paid attention to a book if it had a strong endorsement on it. When I say that I “paid attention” to the book, I mean that I took a look at the product description, and if that sounded interesting, I opened the book and read the first chapter to see if it was up to snuff. But if the quality was poor, I didn’t buy the book, no matter how glowing the endorsements.

And if the cover was off, or the price was way out of line, I probably never even got far enough to see the endorsements in the first place.

Assuming Everything Else is Right, Then What?

So assuming that you’ve got a well-written book, a strong cover, a reasonable price, and a great product description, how do you line up endorsements?

What do you have to do in order to get some other author to endorse your book?

Let’s turn that around.

Suppose you’re a reasonably successful author, and you get a request from another author to endorse their book. Why might you say yes? And why might you say no?

Reasons You’d Say Yes

You might agree to endorse a book for a variety of reasons:

  • You already know the author who’s asking for the endorsement.
  • You’ve heard of the author and know he or she has a good reputation.
  • The book sounds REALLY interesting.
  • The book sounds like it’s going to sell extremely well, which means that endorsers for the book will automatically get some free publicity.
  • You just want to help out another author.
  • Probably other reasons.

Reasons You’d Say No

You might decline to endorse a book for a variety of reasons:

  • You’re under massive time pressure and you just don’t have six or eight or ten hours to read this book right now.
  • You never heard of the author, and they approach you in a weird way that makes you feel like they have an entitlement mentality and don’t realize they’re asking you to do them a big favor.
  • The book has a terrible title or a terrible cover, or it’s in a category you hate, or it’s presenting a message that you violently oppose.
  • The book just doesn’t sound like something you’d want to read.
  • You read the first few chapters of the book and realized that the quality is not something you feel comfortable endorsing.
  • Probably other reasons.

Lining Up the Endorsements

So how do you line up endorsements? Here are the key elements that I think should go into your game plan:

  • Get your ducks in a row. You need to have Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of your book ready to send out to potential endorsers in several electronic formats—at least PDF, and if possible also a Kindle version and an ePub version. You might also have paper ARCs. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will often create paper ARCs specifically to send to potential endorsers. You don’t need to have the cover designed yet.
  • Always, always, always keep in mind that other authors are busy and you are asking for a big favor. So remember going into this that some authors will not have the time, and that you need to respect their right to not have time.
  • Make a list of authors who might potentially be willing to endorse your book. Some of these might be very likely. Others might be very unlikely. But there should be a reason why you’d want to ask each one of them.
  • Sort them into groups: most likely to say yes, moderately likely to say yes, and most likely to say no.
  • Start with the group of most likely candidates and write an e-mail customized to each one, asking if they’re willing to read an Advance Reader Copy for possible endorsement.
  • If things go well with the first group, send e-mails to your next group—the less-likely candidates. (If things don’t go well with the first group, you probably need to rethink your approach.)
  • If things also go well with the second group, then send e-mails to the group of least-likely candidates.

What Goes In That E-mail

You may be thinking that I’ve left out something very important—exactly how to make that crucial “ask” in the e-mail.

You’re right. Asking is hard.There’s a lot to say about it, more than would fit in the bullet points above.

So how do you ask for an endorsement? Here’s how:

Remember that you are asking for a big, big favor. Nobody owes you this big of a favor, so you should expect that some people will say no. If they say yes, it’s going to cost them a fair bit of time and effort, and they may just not have it right now.

For each author you approach, you need to personalize your e-mail so it’s clear that you’re not simply shotgunning out a million requests. Think about how well you know this author. Think about what they like to read, and why they might be willing to read your book. Think about what’s in this book for them, particularly. And also think about why they might have to say no.

Then write the e-mail and make it personal! It must not be a form letter. Write it in a way that shows you’re thinking about their particular situation in life. If there’s something in the book they’ll love, say what it is. But make it clear that you know it’s going to cost them time and effort to read your book. Show that you appreciate them.

Make it clear that you completely understand that they might not be able to write an endorsement. And also make it clear that you’re not asking them to promise an endorsement up front. You’re asking them to read the book for possible endorsement—meaning that they might read part of it and then decide to say no.

Never, ever, ever offer money or any other inducement. Endorsements are not for sale. Endorsements need to be freely given. You wouldn’t offer your mother payment for making a great Thanksgiving dinner. You’d offer appreciatiation . . .

Which POV – 1st or 3rd Person?

I’m working on my seventh fiction story and hoping to have it published sometime within the next two months. It’s entitled, Cadeyrn’s Tale. I generally write in the third person, but I’ve chosen to write this particular piece in the first person. It seemed best to me that Cadeyrn tells his own story.

First person POV isn’t right for every story, therefore it’s necessary to determine if it’s right for your story. Most commonly, first person narrative is found in young adult writing and youthful romantic comedies. But it most certainly can be used in other genres as well. To Kill a Mockingbird is but one example.

Determine if it’s Right for Your Story

What really needs to be considered is what is best for your story. Generally, first person allows your readers to become more acquainted and closer to the narrator. It allows the reader to get into the character’s head – but only his. Third person allows the reader to get into any character’s head. Consider that when deciding POV.

Choose a Tense

The choice of tense isn’t important, but do your best to keep it consistent throughout. Much of the time first person is told in the present tense, but it can work well using past tense also. You can begin in the present, as I did in Cadeyrn’s Tale, and go back to the past as the narrator tells the story from beginning to present. First person also works well with memoirs.

Purpose is Key

Remember that first person is more than a story, more than just an interesting plot. There is a reason the narrator is telling his/her own story. There is a message they want you to receive. Your reader wants to read the unique POV of this person. Why is your character telling this story? The story belongs to them so it must be more than just sharing facts amongst the plot. What is it that is compelling your narrator to tell you their story?

Have fun with it, but keep it all in perspective. First person isn’t right for every story. You, the author determines its effectivenss.

Time is Running Out

I must apologize. The last two weeks have been crazy busy with church work, family needs, etc. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get it all done – and this is one of those times. I did manage to get up a new question. That means I’m waiting for new answers, and I did put up a new excerpt from Lori Colbo’s story, Blackbird Has Spoken. It has not been published yet, but I hope this gives you a taste of what lies ahead. It’s a very powerful story. That’s all I’m going to say.

Hopefully next week, I’ll have some more tips to pass on to you. Until then, keep at it.

Surprise and Suspense – Is There a Difference?

Is there a difference? – Absolutely, yes, although the two are closely connected. Before I anwser that question in more detail, let me ask you another one. Is it necessary to use both in fiction writing? I suppose not. As the author, you’re free to write anything, anyway you want to. But if only surprise or suspense is used I have to question, how well is the story written?

Now, let’s talk about surprise and suspense, and I think you’ll see why it’s so important to use both.

The use of surprise seems to come out of the blue. The reader is not expecting it. It blindsides him. But the effect is short-lived. He may receive a shot of adrenaline, but the thrill soon passes. Good writing should contain a susrprise here and there to excite the reader.

Suspense, on the other hand, begs the question, what is going to happen next? it’s suspense that keeps the pages turning. Suspense isn’t necessarily surprising, but it builds from the surprise. Consider Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We know the story well, but if we were reading it for the first time, we might be surprised that a ghost would be part of a Christmas story. As the story progresses, suspense begins to make us wonder who will visit next? What will be the outcome?

What about a story about a serial killer? The surprise may be when the first murder takes place in a passive, rural town. Then we see murders are to be expected. Suspense takes hold when we don’t know who will be next – how, where or when it will happen. The only way to find out is turn another page. After all, that is the goal, isn’t it.

Try surprise and suspense in your stories and see what happens. You just might create a New York Times bestseller.

Using Pictures for Story Ideas

I often use pictures to get ideas for scenes and/or settings. The above picture is the property of jlgsgirl photography and was specifically taken for use in my book, Dear Ellie. Before I explain the significance of the picture in the story, let me ask you, what kind of story might this image tell? Tell it in your imagination.

Then translate what your imagination is telling you to the written word. Maybe you see a sense of peace. Perhaps you see a lonely bench where happiness and dreams once sat. Could it be a storm is brewing just over the horizon that’s not in view yet? What about the railing? Is it there to prevent a suicide? What might the tree tell us? It could possibly represent shade and protection from an ordeal your character is experiencing. In reality, there may be scores of things this picture could be communicating to our imagination. But it’s your imagination and your story.

The above picture was taken for a specific idea I had while writing Dear Ellie, but you can use pictures to gain ideas from as well. I hope you’ve seen that. I don’t want to break anybody’s bubble, but I don’t believe writer’s block exists. I think it’s also a product of the imagination. Sometimes I need to think about a scene before it’s fully developed in my mind, and I’ve found that browsing through online images often help to break the ice and get the creative juices flowing again.

There are many online image sources. I usually use Google images, but you might also try Pinterest, Pixabay, and a host of others. Let your imagination pore over the images and develop your scene as your muse dictates. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Now, back to the picture from Dear Ellie. There were actually two. This one was placed in the beginnig of the book before the first word of chapter appears.

In this picture, Ellie is filled with confusion over circustances in her life. All she sees are trees and weeds that block her thinking. Her reality has become muddied as she comtemplates her life – her life that is to be revealed as the story progresses.

The first picture of the empty bench appears at the end of the book, after the very last word was written. We see she has found another bench looking out over a relatively clear sky with no obstructions – but she is gone. The story tells of a life of pain reconciled with the acceptance of reality. The storm has passed, and she moves on.

Even though the two bench photos were taken to fit the story, so often it works the other way around for me. I see a scene first with my eyes and then translate it to my imagination. The final product exists when I translate it from my imagination to the written word. Give it a try. It just may be what you need to block writer’s block.

Continuing Education

We live in a world where sometimes education is placed on a pedistal. Education is not the answer to everything, but nevertheless it is true that the more we know about a subject, the better prepared we are to apply that knowledge to our lives.

Writing is one of those areas. As a writer, our education should never end. There is always something new we can learn to help us improve and reach our goals as a wordsmith. You can always pick one of my in-depth writing courses from the resource page, but I want to give you a link to some free, short courses from Reedsy Learning. You can choose from scores of courses (all free) that cover the five main areas of self-publishing – writing, editing, publishing, distribution, and marketing.

The courses are easy to understand and apply. I’ve taken several of them and found them to be useful. Although the courses are very basic, there is much information you can work into your writing and publishing. I don’t get a cent for this endorsement. I just thought you might be interested so I’m passing it on. Just click here, and you’re on your way to a continuing education in the art of word creation.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Have you ever noticed how keeping secrets or telling secrets sometimes get the best of people. Everyone loves to receive privileged information, and many times we love giving it away. So take advantage of our tendecy to be curious. Give your character a secret to keep or to divulge against his/her better judgment.

What will happen if Sue’s boss suspects she is falling in love with him? What about a teen-ager who joins a gang? How will his poor mother feel if she finds out? How does he keep her from finding out?

Secrets are great for causing suspense, and they can add another dimension to your character. How will your character hide his secret? What will be the fallout if he is found out?

Will giving your character a secret fear or desire broaden the story? Was there something degrading or shameful in his/her past that they choose to hide? Is there an aspect of their lives they want to keep a secret. Do they pretend to be someone they’re not?

He/She is your character. Build him/her any way you want. Give him/her a secret that will blow your readers away. Just go it!

What About Story Endings?

There can be no question. Your first page, your first paragraph must catch the attention of your reader – or they won’t read. But suppose they read your work to the end. A story that begins well must end well. The ending is what your reader will remember. It forms the final impression for your reader, not just of the story, but of you, the author. Consider the following:

Your readers are looking for something. They hope to find it in your story. Wht are they looking for? Most likely, an emotional payoff. The ending should reward them for their emotional investment in your tale.

It should show the result of the conflict (Hopefully, you’ve developed a clear conflict). Has your protagonist reached the goal? Maybe – maybe not. Sometimes a good ending might leave your reader wondering about the final outcome. The ending may not be clear, but may be suggestive of things to come.

A good ending shows the results of your protagonist’s character arc. How has he/she changed because of the struggles encountered in the story? What has been learned?

A good ending will collect all the loose ends and tie them up in a suggestive way – no need to go into detail as this will likely bog down the story.

These are just a few things to think about when ending your story. Take them for what it’s worth.