9

For the next few weeks, I’m going to do a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’m only going to cover six, though. Those being:

Character vs. Society

Ah, the rebel character. They’re fighting against The Man, whether they planned it that way or they just happened to be dropped into a situation where they had to challenge the normal order of things. They might be on the run, or not, but others look down on them and they have to do what’s right (for them, anyway). This can cover a broad range of situations and character types. Deep down, we all find certain things about society unappealing to us, and we might even buck those things, at least to some extent. The rebel character really resonates with us, especially if they’re scorning the same things that we do.

This sort of conflict can cover a broad range of topics: a character fighting against injustice in the real world; a character fighting against a corrupt system in a made-up society (dystopian and sci-fi often explore this); a character who is abandoning norms and traditions of their culture; criminals; someone fighting the government; someone who lives outside of society; even someone who is shunned or exiled from their society. Whatever the plot, the character is fighting something bigger than them: they’re fighting the world, or, they’re fighting for the world to accept them. It can be as complex as someone trying to bring down a corrupt leader or more simple like someone not wanting to be forced into an arranged marriage.

These sort of stories look at the bigger picture, of how we function within society and as human beings. There are lots of unwritten rules and expectations that are placed on us every day–so many that we probably don’t even realize they’re happening. Fiction can help bring attention to things like that and make us realize how being human is a strange and complicated set of workings, especially when we have to interact with each other and the organizations we’ve built.

Character vs. Society needs:

  • Someone operating outside the lines. Your character has to be willing to step outside the norms of the world they live in, question things, and want something different for themselves. They probably have a strong sense of personal morality and they’re willing to fight for what they think is right. Even if it’s not a good vs. evil scenario and more an evil vs. good one (like the character is a criminal) it’s important to show why that particular lifestyle is important to your character (do they do it for the thrill, money, or to protect someone?).
  • A system they must overcome. The Big Bad in your story is something much more powerful than your character–a staunch and ingrained tradition, a powerful corporation or government, a way of thinking that’s hard to change, the law–and it must be bad enough that your character finally has enough and decides to stand up and fight. Alternately, it can be something they’re having a hard time breaking into or being a part of, but they desperately want to be.
  • No easy way out (or in). If the societal juggernaut is easily vanquished, it’s not a story. The character should struggle and be up against some powerful odds. It’s not easy to bring down the government or evade the law. It’s also not easy to be accepted when you’re an outsider. Give the character something to work on.

This sort of conflict is actually one we all face at some level in our own lives, it’s even part of being human. We don’t always win the fight, but fiction gives us hope. Do you like this sort of conflict? What is you favorite type of Character vs. Society plot?

9

For the next few weeks, I’m going to do a series of posts on the conflicts that can be found in a narrative. Depending where you look, and whose advice you ask, there’s anywhere from 4-10 types of conflict that can drive a plot. I’m only going to cover six, though. Those being:

Character vs. Character

A protagonist up against an antagonist is the most common conflict you’ll find. The good guy vs. the bad guy. Two different characters who have different visions for the world of your story. There’s lots of ways to play with this, as your hero doesn’t always have to be a hero in the traditional sense and your villain can have redeeming, even sympathetic qualities. In fact, villains are often more well-rounded and better characters when we can understand why they’re opposing the hero. We don’t have to agree with them, or maybe we do, but at least we ‘get it.’

You can also write evil for the sake of evil, but when writing a villian who is pure evil and simply wants to bring about the downfall of the hero with no ulterior motive except they’re the bad guy, the world building is important. We need to know how this kind of evil came to be in your world, why it exists, and why it’s specifically targeting your hero. I myself and not big fan of evil for the sake of evil, but if it’s set in a suitably entertaining and believable narrative, I’m much more inclined to accept it and even enjoy it. I notice this tends to pop up a lot in horror, sci-fi, and children’s stories, which is an amusing dichotomy in itself. (Although, I personally believe horror is closer to Character vs. Nature as I see monsters as being part of nature, but I’ll discuss this more when I cover that subject.)

Also, a hero who’s good for the sake of good can get preachy and pandering, so you have to be careful. Again, the world and the narrative becomes important if your hero is purely virtuous simply because they’re the good guy. This is why even most superheroes tend to be complex and struggle with their own less-than-perfect character traits. Readers like stories that work in gray areas, because most people are not all good or all bad in real life. We like to see that even the best people are capable of screwing up, just like us.

For Character vs. Character, you need:

  • A protagonist. Whether or not they’re a “hero” is up to you. This is the person the story focuses on, and the story is about what they want, what they want to accomplish. Ideally, in the end they win, even if it’s at a price. At least some part of the mission they set out on at the beginning of the story is achieved.
  • An antagonist. Again, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a “villain,” as they may very well be right in their own respect. However, their main purpose through the narrative is to block your protagonist’s efforts. They don’t see things the way your protagonist does and they want to stop them. In the end they lose, at least partially, and things are forever changed in some way.
  • A conflict. This goes without saying, of course, but the struggle between two people also needs to be believable in the sense of your story. It should be based around their behaviors, the situation they find themselves in, and the reader should never have to stretch really hard to figure out why these two people would be bopping each other over the head. There should also be foreshadowing that these two will clash at some point, and everything will be decided.

And there we have it, our first type of conflict. The most common one, I would argue. What makes a good Character vs. Character conflict for you?

10

Where do you write? Do you have a “writing desk,” and if so, what does it look like?

I always enjoy cool articles like this, that show off the work spaces and writing desks of famous authors. I like to see where the magic happens, but also, I like seeing that they’re often just like me–they want comfort, they can be just as disorganized and cluttered as I am, and above all, the most important trait of creativity isn’t where you write, but the fact you show up to get it done at all.

Then of course, there’s Danielle Steel’s desk, and don’t we all hope to achieve this level of self-satisfaction in our careers someday?

The space where a writer writes varies by the writer (say that ten times fast). Some writers want a lot of space to spread out–room for their notes, research, coffee, and a place for the cat to sit, of course. Other writers don’t need a lot of space, as they keep the experience of writing minimal. Some writers want a window to look out of and let the air in, while others find scenery too distracting. Some want a nice cozy corner and some want a big, airy room. Some writers need silence so they can concentrate, with no one around, and some writers thrive on background noise and company while they write.

Of course, other things limit a writer’s space. Some of us don’t have the room in our house to carve out a space just for writing, and we don’t have the money to move to a bigger place, or buy a fancy (or even plain) desk. Some of us have physical limitations that don’t let us sit on certain kinds of furniture for too long, or hunch over a keyboard for extended periods of time. Some writers struggle to find the space and time in the normal world, let alone have a singular, holy space where it all gets done regularly.

As for myself, I have a confession–only during one period in my life did I have a dedicated space to write. When I was younger, and first married, there was a nook in our bedroom (I think it was meant to be a vanity) where I set up my writing space. It was nice, and cute, but rather small. However, there was space for my word processor and it had a drawer and it made me happy. Other than that (we only lived there about a year) I’ve always just wrote wherever the computer happens to be. Especially later on, when I got a laptop, that could be anywhere.

Nowadays, I simply sit on the couch in the living room and put my laptop on my lap (I have a lap desk for it) and write. I have a nice view out the balcony doors. I keep my needed items like notebooks and my planner on the second level of my three-tier coffee table. Sometimes when I’m really lazy, I just prop myself up in bed and write there. However, this arrangement works for me because of my lifestyle. I have no small children, and I’m divorced. My adult son and I are roommates and we work opposite shifts, so the apartment is quiet and nothing distracts me no matter where I am. Except, of course, when my cat decides I’ve been paying way too much attention to the keyboard and my fingers would be put to better use petting her. I’ve always been a “write anywhere” sort of writer, though. I actually put more focus on the writing software and computer I use (I like ease and simplicity, and I’m a bit of a tech head) than where I use it.

I could, I suppose, set up a desk in my bedroom, and I’ve given it fleeting thoughts, but why bother when the couch is so comfy?

Where do you write? If you have a picture of your writing space to share in the comments, please do! I always like to see where writers get it done.

13

If you’ve ever written a whole entire book, you know it’s a process–one that takes days, weeks, months, even years. You also know that not every stage of the process has the same fire fueling it. There may be parts of the book that you fly through in a happy rush of creativity, eager to get to the page every day and put down words, and find out what happens next. Other parts are like slogging through drying cement. They’re just huge hills to get over so you can hopefully, eventually see the end. There are days you turn out tons of words and then stretches of days where you don’t write at all.

However, if you finished writing a whole entire book, you know the effort such a thing takes, all total, is enormous. It also has to have some motivation behind it at all times, no matter how small that motivation is. Many things can move a writer to keep writing: desire to tell a story, hope for the future, wanting to see your work finished and complete. Those are internal reasons and they’re unique to each person. But today, we’re going to talk about one particular, outer motivation that can move you as well.

Deadlines.

Some writers shrink from the word. They hate the idea of putting a “due date” on their work. Other writers love deadlines, because they light a fire under them that they would otherwise have trouble kindling. Personally, I like deadlines. I like knowing I have to get things done, and that there are consequences for slacking, because it keeps me disciplined. As much as I want to screw around–and I love screwing around–I can’t, because I have a deadline.

There are two types of deadlines: external (someone else sets it, such as a publisher) and self-imposed (“I will get X done by DATE”). Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

External Deadlines:

PROS:

  • Give you a clear date and time to finish something. This gives you a target, and you can adjust your writing schedule leading up to the deadline to make sure you hit it.
  • There are real-world consequences for not making your deadline–losing work, not getting a publication, not being able to enter a contest–and that keeps you focused.
  • Helps you take the writing and the task of finishing seriously. It feels more like a “real job” you have to perform for.

CONS:

  • The pressure to achieve something in a set period of time can actually paralyze you with anxiety, and you don’t get anything done as a result. Too much stress kills your creativity.
  • The work may be rushed and not the best you could do if you had as much time as you needed.
  • Repeated failures to hit deadlines can leave you feeling crushed and like you’re worthless and lazy, and make you reluctant to try again.

Self-Imposed Deadlines:

PROS:

  • Give you more time to do your best work and write carefully. Much more relaxing, much less stress.
  • Are flexible and can be changed if you need more time.
  • Can be tailor-made to fit your abilities and the pace you’re used to working at.

CONS:

  • Since no one but you is holding you responsible, it’s easy to go off track, not take it seriously, and not meet the deadline.
  • There is little challenge, since you can just change the deadline if you want. No need to push or stretch yourself, or sharpen your skills to get faster and better.
  • Just like there is no real consequence for failure, there’s no external reward for accomplishment, either.

Deadlines can be good or bad, depending on how you choose to utilize them. Some of us need structure, while some of us are just trying to do our best for ourselves. What about you? Do you like deadlines? Do you make your own, or seek ones outside you, such as submission deadlines, on-spec work, and contests? Tell us about it in the comments!

10

This week, I thought I’d do something funny. With a lack of blog post ideas in my head, I went over to HubSpot’s Blog Ideas Generator to see if it could help me come up with some topics. You have to input three nouns, so I chose “writing,” “authors,” and “books.” Most of the results actually gave me a laugh, so this week I’m going to make posts from the funniest ones on the list. Enjoy!

Think You’re Cut Out For Doing Books? Take This Quiz

This one made me laugh the most, so I’m doing it first. Take the quiz! Give yourself 3 points for every (1.) answer, 2 points for every (2.) answer, and 1 point for every (3.) answer.

How many words do you write in a day?

  1. At least 2,000! Stephen King says you should write 2,000 words a day and he’s the President of Writing!
  2. I don’t write every day, but I try to get a few hundred in when I can.
  3. Does typing search terms into Netflix count?

Where do you get your character names from?

  1. I’m very creative and they just come to me.
  2. I check out baby naming sites and glean them from real life and stuff like that, but sometimes it’s difficult.
  3. Everyone in all my stories is named Bob.

How many books/stories do you have published?

  1. Tons! I’m a very busy and extensively-published author!
  2. I haven’t published anything yet, but I’m submitting things to editors/agents.
  3. Publishing? You mean like when I write rants on bathroom walls?

How do you handle rejection?

  1. It’s disappointing, but I consider every rejection a learning experience!
  2. It’s really discouraging, I still struggle with it.
  3. Reject me? No one would dare reject me. The last editor who rejected me, well…let’s just say they got a special “fruit basket” for Christmas.

How do you feel about editing/revising?

  1. I love it! I live fixing up my work up and making it the best it can be.
  2. It’s not my favorite thing, but I know it’s an important part of the writing process.
  3. Everything I write is perfect the first time. I send everything directly from Word to Kindle Direct Publishing without even running a spell check. Who has time for edits!

How long have you been writing?

  1. I was born with a pen in my hand! (Ouch, my poor mother!)
  2. I started writing in school and found out it made me happy.
  3. Since yesterday, but I’m pretty sure this is my year to win a Pulitzer Prize.

How do you feel about the success of other authors?

  1. I’m very happy for them. Their success doesn’t mean I won’t be successful too!
  2. It makes me envious, but I try to use that to motivate me.
  3. All other “authors” are going to retire now that I’m here.

Do you write in one genre?

  1. I picked one genre and I’m building my brand in it.
  2. I’m experimenting with different genres, still trying to find my niche.
  3. I invented six new genres and I have the top book on Amazon in all of them.

Are you good at writing query letters?

  1. I know all there is to know about query letters and I write the best ones! I’ve gotten so many offers from my great queries.
  2. I try to learn all I can about querying, but it’s not easy to write an effective query letter.
  3. Who has time for letters? I just show up at their office with my handwritten manuscript to add that personal touch editors love.

How do you construct a plot?

  1. I write an outline, fill in details as I write, keep note cards, annotate my manuscript, and check with beta readers to make sure everything makes sense and I haven’t left any gaps.
  2. I kinda just try to write and hope it works–I usually fix the plot up in the revision stage.
  3. I just steal the plots of Stranger Things episodes and change the character names.

Okay, now add up your score and see how you did!

24-30 pts: Oh, look at Perfect Author over here. Go write your 2,000 words before Stephen King astral projects over your keyboard and curses you with weak plotlines and adverbs.

15-23 pts: You’re pretty much a normal writer. Congratulations! You’re full of anxiety and uncertainty like the rest of us, but you’re trying.

10-14 pts: Uh…I don’t think you’re cut out for doing books. You’d make a great politician, though.

How did you do?