If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th. In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

The Beating Heart of Story

by Linda Rodriguez

We’re surrounded by conflict. The airwaves and internet are full of reports of heated and often violent conflicts in our own neighborhoods, country, and in countries around the world. In our own lives, more often than we’d wish, we, too, are faced with conflict. So it may be a natural impulse on a writer’s part to avoid conflict on the page, part of a learned response. However, it’s almost always a mistake.

Conflict is the beating heart of story. It’s the engine for our narratives. When we make things easy and peaceful for our characters, we make the book boring for our readers. Boring means they close the book and put it down, and it’s unlikely they’ll ever pick it up again, nor will they buy or check out another of our books. Conflict is what drives our characters and our narratives forward and keeps our readers turning the pages.

As writers, we can make our background setting come to life on the page and write beautifully crafted sentences about interesting people, but if nothing is happening, the book goes nowhere. Our dialogue can be excellent and realistic, but if our people never disagree about anything or never have any subtext contradicting the literal words they’re saying, we’ll lose the reader’s interest.

I would extend what I said about the futility of well-crafted background setting, style, and dialogue without conflict to the writing of realistic characters that also come alive on the page, but if our characters were truly well-realized, we’d have conflict in our book to make the whole thing come alive. Conflict, along with story, arises from character. More precisely, it arises from the rubbing of characters against each other, this one’s need or desire clashing with that one’s fear or obsession.

Story and conflict are inextricably linked. Someone wants or needs something, and someone (or something) else doesn’t want her to have it or wants the same thing for himself instead. The first person takes steps to obtain what she wants, and at each turn, her opponent or someone (or something) else makes it impossible for her to succeed. But she keeps trying, even when it begins to look impossible. In the end, she wins through and obtains her desire (perhaps only to realize it wasn’t worth what she did to win it), or she fails through some fatal flaw in her or in the system, or she comes to realize that she’s been blind and she really wanted and needed something else all the time.

Without those conflicts, those obstacles the protagonist had to overcome, there would have been no story. If she wants a promotion and the boss gives it to her right away, if she wants the hero and he asks her to marry him right away, if she wants to find out who murdered her friend and bring that murderer to justice and he confesses and is arrested right away, there’s no reason for us to keep reading her story.


The rougher we make it for our characters, the better our readers like it. Not because they’re sadists or they don’t like our characters, but because they want to see that conflict—they want to see our characters struggle and overcome the odds. So pile on the troubles. Make sure every toss of the dice goes against your protagonist. Never make it easy for him. Your readers will love you for it. Save your pacifism and gentleness and nonconfrontational behavior and conflict resolution training for your own life. You need it. Your characters don’t.

16 comments:

Kait said...

Great post. I remember learning early on that your characters have to want something in a scene, even if it's only a cup of coffee, and that want has to be thwarted in some way to create conflict or tension. It's the conflict that keeps us turning the pages.

Gloria Alden said...

Linda, you are so right about that. I bought a book from an author who was sitting next to me at a writers event last spring. I finally started it, and by the third very short chapter, I put it aside because not only was there no conflict or even the suggestion of one, the prose was flat and you never got a real feel for the protagonist except that he was a very boring person. The author is an engineer and so was the protagonist. I wonder if that was the problem.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait, that's so true. Scene by scene, those conflicts, large and small, drive that story along.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, it sounds as if your engineer was simply an amateur writer. Most of my students and clients are quite accomplished writers with very professional attitudes (thank heavens, or I'd never enjoy working with them), but it's often the wellsprings of story that are lacking for them. They can be skillful at description and background, at dialogues and slipping in necessary bits of exposition without infodumps, and their prose can be smooth and clear, but their stories are still dead on the ground because there's nothing to drive that story along.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Rodriguez's rules: 1. use conflict

I keep a list pasted in my "everything except the grocery list" notebook.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ha ha!Right, Margaret. One of my top students.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes I slip into "stories" that have little or no conflict--and thank goodness my writing critique group points it out to me. "Great character study, but what happens to her?"

Linda Rodriguez said...

When I find I've come up light on conflict, KM, I always know I haven't gone deeply enough into the characters. I go back into them, and always they show me the parts that will clash with other characters to create conflict, and we're off and running.

Shari Randall said...

I'm hanging this over my desk, Linda. Whenever I start to think of my characters as real people (and want them to do what rational, sensible real people do) I think of the moment in that great 80s TV show, Dynasty, when sweet Krystle and scheming Alexis brawl in the grand foyer of Krystle's mansion. Ridiculous? Yes. Memorable. Yes! We want memorable, right?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Or, Shari, just think of the people in your life--many if it's like mine--who always look for someone to blame for everything first or who are always sure everyone's operating on a secret agenda that's not to their benefit, etc. Or the folks who perceive everything as an attack and hit back first. Then, even your rational, sensible characters can end up battling, whether they want to or not.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Excellent advice, Linda.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Jim.

Warren Bull said...

Your comments are right on target.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Warren. I'm glad you found them helpful.

Jenny said...

Thanks, Linda, (my former teacher) for such a great post. Your article really gets to the heart of the matter and I'm saving it for reference as I work on my next novel.

All the best to you and Happy New Year!

Jenny

Linda Rodriguez said...

Happy New Year, Jenny! I hope all is going well with your writing and your life.