Mental Health Monday–Character Conflict

As writers gear up for NaNo, I want to review an important tidbit to keep in mind.

Stories thrive on tension and a sure-fire way to create tension is through conflict. Not only can conflict occur between characters, it can also happen within a character.

Here are some examples of conflict between characters:

  • Protagonist vs. Antagonist
  • Protagonist vs. BFF
  • Protagonist vs. Parent
  • Protagonist vs. Love Interest
  • Antagonist vs. Minion

Pretty straight forward, right?

So how do you develop conflict within a character?

  • Put him or her in a situation where he/she has to choose between two “bad” choices. (Does the phrase “the lesser of two evils” come to mind?)
  • Make it so the antagonist is a sympathetic character and let the protagonist see it. This will put him or her at odds with defeating the “bad guy” versus giving them forgiveness or helping them.
  • Set things up so the protagonist can’t necessarily tell the difference between reality or fantasy. This doesn’t have to apply strictly to paranormal or even psychosis, but situations can be open to interpretation and it all boils down to perception. For example, if a protag sees her love interest hug an attractive woman, the protag may assume he’s married or dating when in reality the “other woman” could be a cousin or sister.
  • Like all humans, it’s natural for our protag’s to have mixed emotions about things. For example, maybe the protag is trying to quit drinking because he’s got a DWI, but his buddies are egging him on to drink. He knows he shouldn’t, but dammit, why can’t he have a good time like everybody else?
  • Remember that the higher the stakes, the more tension and the more conflict arises.

What strategies do you use to raise tension and conflict between and within a character?

Check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah Fine’s The Strangest Situation for some awesome writerly posts!

Flake-out Friday–Tension Demonstration

Whether your’re writing action packed scenes or letting your MC and antag take breaks between conflicts, the tension’s gotta stay tight.

Kevin James demonstrates the importance of keeping heightened emotional tension during an ordinary errand. The dash of humor really brings it to the next level. Click the link–it will take you to YouTube to view the video, I pwommiss!

Balancing Tension

Scott Johnson on the Dark Angel Fiction Writing blog posted about creating tension in every genre. The post gave tips on how to build the tension slowly over time without losing the reader’s interest. He wrote:

My own definition of tension as it relates to horror, and writing in general, is taking your characters to the edge and refusing to push them over.  It’s a subtle build of events, each one another notch on the ratchet that brings him closer to the inevitable end.  But more than just careening toward that end, it’s in how he gets there that’s important.  It isn’t enough to get your character from point A to point Z.  It’s the roadblocks (points B-Y) you set up in front of him that make the story. Each one brings him closer to the edge.

I gotta say this is something I struggle with.

Specifically, I have a hard time keeping tension high during “down time.” By down time, I mean the scenes between the action, where the characters get to catch their breath before launching into the next brawl.

It’s a delicate balancing act because you can’t slack off too much, or things get boring.

On the other hand you can’t have action ALL THE TIME OR YOU END UP NUMBING YOUR READER TO ANYTHING EXCITING WHATSOEVER, KIND OF LIKE THIS, THE ALL CAPS THING. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT AND WHAT ISN’T? HOW LONG TO YOU GO BEFORE YOU STOP READING THIS BECAUSE I’M PRACTICALLY YELLING AT YOU FOR NO REASON?

OK. Enough of that, I think you get the point.

So, here’s what I do (or at least attempt to do, LOL!) to keep the tension high:

  • Tight sentences (reading aloud can help eliminate extraneous words)
  • Tight dialogue that keeps the plot moving
  • Limited backstory seeded around the manuscript in bits
  • Limited, but pertinent description–HOW and WHAT you describe something can give HELLA deets about your character and his/her “voice” and it doesn’t have to go on ad nauseum
  • If a scene doesn’t advance the plot, I cut it, no matter how “nice” it is or how much I like it
  • Up the ante every chance I get
  • Create conflict between characters
  • Create conflict between the POV character’s inner thoughts with what they actually say

Your turn. What tips and techniques do you have to keep the tension high?

AND, how do you keep tension high during the “down times???”

Be sure to check out Lydia’s post on 2011 Writerly Goals for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog.

PLUS, let’s give a warm welcome to our newest contributor, Sarah Fine, YA writer, blogger, and child psychologist, repped by Kathleen Ortiz!! She’ll be posting her responses on the third Wednesdays of every month.

Welcome, Sarah! Glad to have you aboard!!

Also, fantasy and paranormal writer and blog buddy, Ciara Knight is interviewing me over at her blog today! Stop in and say hi!

Every Wednesday