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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?