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Do you have enough conflict? Not in your life, in your book. My latest rejection from an agent mentioned some issues with the conflict. Not that it wasn’t there, but I clearly hadn’t handled it as well as I thought I had.

I didn’t understand some of her feedback until I attended my WRW chapter meeting on Saturday.

Author Sherry Lewis presented several workshops, including one on conflict that really struck a chord for me. I’ve studied conflict before. My first blog post was about Debra Dixon’s awesome book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and I've read several other craft books that handled the topic. I thought I had a decent understanding of it.

But with the recent rejection fresh in my mind, maybe I was more receptive than usual, because some of the things Sherry said lit up my brain as if I'd never heard them before. One of the reasons I read so many craft books, take online classes, and attend chapter meetings is because you never know when something will click.

Either way, here were my big takeaways from Sherry’s workshop.

  • The strongest internal conflict involves a character forced by circumstances (e.g. like saving a life, providing for a loved one, or personal survival) to do something that goes against his or her ingrained beliefs, or who wants two opposing things. A pacifist forced to fight, for example, or a devout priest who longs for children of his own.
  • Characters must hold on to their beliefs as strongly as we do in real life. They shouldn’t be swayed over coffee with a friend.
  • Don’t introduce all of the conflicts at once. Introduce them in stages to keep the middle from sagging. Maybe the priest finally comes to realize that he can serve God in other ways, but then finds out that he’s sterile after he’s already quit the church.
  • In addition to the overarching conflicts, don’t forget the scene conflicts (refer to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, which I’m reading right now and highly recommend). Make sure the scene conflict is related to the story. The other character refusing to answer questions is conflict, an attack of swarming gnats is just annoying.

Do you have any gems of conflict wisdom to add?

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Gwen you are an amazing person, I admire your ability to learn new stuff by accepting criticism….very few people are strong enough to do it.
    However I think you are a good writer and the agent doesn’t know what she is talking about lol lol

    • Reply

      Thanks, Mirella. I’m definitely developing a tougher skin. That doesn’t mean I always take criticism well, but after I calm down I can usually see the value in it. 😉

  2. Reply

    An attack of swarming gnats IS just annoying. :p

    Seriously though, this is great feedback. It makes me need to reconsider a lot of what is in my book, because they’re doing the right thing for the right reason, not the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason. There’s plenty of conflict to go around, but maybe not the right kind.

    At least I have plenty of time to work it out while my book is on hiatus. *sigh*

      • Reply

        It’s probably going to be a while… my husband and I are having a baby!!!!! 😀 I’m so happy it’s hard to be sad about the book (though I am).

          • Reply

            Christmas Eve. I’ll put it up on my blog once I start baby knitting. I’ve been so boring since I got pregnant… no energy at all. It would be seriously depressing if I weren’t too tired to care.

  3. Reply

    Kali, don’t worry about being boring! Now’s the time to rest up. 😉 My oldest was born right around Christmas. He was due 1/3, but we never made it into the new year.


  4. Reply

    The conflict game is such a difficult one to master because the external conflict must create internal conflict based on the person’s strongly held beliefs about him/herself.

    And that leads to change. And that leads to the HEA with the one person he/she deserves.


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