On Writing Conflict

James R. CallanAfter a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.

Website:        www.jamesrcallan.com
Blog:            www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Amazon Author page:    http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Twitter:            @jamesrcallan

A Ton of Gold, (Oak Tree Press, 2013)
On Amazon
On Barnes & Noble

How to Write Great Dialog, (Oak Tree Press, 2014)
On Amazon in paperback:  :  http://amzn.to/1f2XE9u 

A common bit of writing advice for novelists is, “Add more conflict.”  For most novels, the author sets up some major conflict. This may be conflict between two characters in the book, or between two different aspects of a single character.  The conflict might be between a book character and some non-human factor.  For instance, the non-human element could be the weather, man-made elements such as computers, beings or objects from space, and so on.  We have lots of ways to put this major conflict into a book.

But the recommendation is not talking about the major conflict.  It is not suggesting you pick a bigger conflict.  The real idea being promoted is to put in smaller conflicts throughout the book.  Many are of the opinion there should be conflict on every page.

Whoa. Every page? That sounds like an impossible task.

Let’s suppose we want to try to meet this goal for conflict.  Keep in mind, all of these instances of conflict don’t have to be major. In fact, you don’t want them all to be of a similar level. You want to vary them.  Still, how can we get conflict in so often?

How to Write Great DialogDialog is an excellent place.

“You sound different today.”
“No I don’t.”

There’s conflict, in seven words.  How much?  As much as you want.  It could be as simple as, “Oh, I don’t think so.”  Or you can make it much stronger when the second person is hiding something. Whom that affects, and how it affects him or her, can determine the degree of conflict.  Or, suppose the first person pursues this, “Yes, you do.” Do you see how you can ratchet up the conflict?

We’ve set it up in just seven words of dialog. Powerful stuff, this dialog.

In my book How to Write Great Dialog (Oak Tree Press, 2014) I devote a chapter to adding conflict through dialog. You decide what level of conflict or tension you want. Dialog can supply it. Here’s an example from the book.

“That was a great movie.”
“No it wasn’t. It was terrible. I can’t believe you liked it.” (Conflict)
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to push my opinion off on you.”
“Stop it. Don’t be so wish-washy on everything. You liked it. I didn’t. That’s it.” (Conflict again)
“Don’t say you’re sorry. There nothing to be sorry about. We disagree.” (Conflict still)

They will still remain friends, but we’ve added conflict through dialog. And we’ve enhanced the reader’s understanding of the characters.

A Ton of GoldIn one of my suspense books, A Ton of Gold, I put this into practice.
“I shouldn’t have done that, Crissie.”
“My name is Crystal.”
Conflict. Small, but it shows tension between the two.

“No. He did not dump me.”    Minor, but conflict.

“I’ll go ask if she wants to see you.”
“Mr. O’Malley, I’ve known Crystal a lot longer than you have. I probably understand her and her feelings better, too. I’m going to offer my sympathy. And you can stay here.”  We’ve established real tension between these two men, through dialog.

So, first, heed the advice to add more conflict or tension to your book.  And second, use dialog to do it.  That way, you can increase the instances of conflict, you can set whatever level of tension you want, you will keep the reader interested, and you have a better book.

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