Wishing you blessings from Gail Gaymer Martin and the Christian Author Network. As always, I’m busy working on a new novel, and that always reminds me of the many techniques and elements it takes to write a salable book of fiction.
Today I will talk to you about conflicts and why lifting the bar and presenting strong conflicts is important in any kind of fiction from thrillers to romance.
Problems, crises and conflicts need solutions, but the conflict needs to be strong. It can’t be running out of wine at a party or disagreeing on what movie to see. You all know that arguments and disagreements aren’t worthy of being considered a conflict in fiction.
A conflict needs to involve a vital situation or issue needed for the main character to reach his goal. He needs enough money to pay the taxes and buy back the family ranch. He must find the killer to prove the accused is not the criminal. The more desperate the need the more exciting the solution is to readers. So what can you do to raise the stakes in your novel?
Stakes are raised when the conflict or threat is close to home. Someone was murdered on the next street. The neighbor’s child was seriously injured by a hit and run driver. The situation could have happened on your street. The child could have been your own. Still the situation creates a problem and desire to resolve the character’s fear. He wants slower speed limits on the highway. He wants a neighbor watch or better police patrols. These types of issues can happen in novels as they do in real life, but they cannot be the major conflict in the story until the problem is on the character’s doorstep. Then it becomes more personal.
Raising the Stakes
Take a scenario such as this: A coworker has a seriously ill child whose life can only be saved with medication not approved by the FDA, yet successful used in Europe. This situation would sadden a family man, but if the situation happened to his brother’s son, it’s his nephew who will die without the medication. The grief and concern deepens the closer the issue. Now it becomes personal. The situation involves his brother and nephew. He is more than sad. He fills with anger and writes to his congressman and the FDA. He writes an article to the local newspaper asking citizens to start a petition to force the government to act on the approval of this medication that is affect in other countries.
But let’s raise the stakes even more. It’s not a nephew and his brother dealing with this situation, but the plight is his own son who is dying from a disease that could be healed by this medication. In this case, resolving the conflict is vital to his need to save his son. The situation is desperate, and the courses of action grows to unknown heights. The father would do what he did for his nephew, but he would do more. He might decide to travel to Europe and bring the medication into the U.S. illegally. This adds deeper conflict and brings it to crisis level. It could mean imprisonment for him, but it’s a father saving his son, and he will do anything. The stake is deeply personal and it becomes deeply personal for readers who stand behind the father and his desire to save his child.
The stakes can also be raised by facing a community crisis. Everyone recalls in history when radiation was close to homes and families become ill. When water became polluted from chemicals emptied into it by local factories. These are real life concerns that all people have. Today we hear of pieces of land dropping off into mud slides and taking more and more land from people’s property and endangering their homes. These problems also raise the stakes when the character’s home and family are involved. While a community crisis affecting many, authors can bring the desperation home by involving the main character or a family member into the political fray of corruption and greed as they try to save their communities.
As you work with community issues, again, bring it home. Involve the main character and his family. Ask what will happen if this problem isn’t resolved. What political or industrial reaction could add to the main character’s danger? When big business is threatened, it can afford to fight to protect their business even when they know they are at fault. In fiction, such interference by the main character could put his life in jeopardy. Think deep and broad.
Authors writing speculative fiction understand the battles that war in the netherworld, aliens and beings that can destroy the world as we know it, such fiction as: War of the Worlds, Marvel’s The Avenger, Men In Black, Independence Day, and Transformers to name only a few. The author begins in an ordinary world and then strange things happen. Deeper into the story, the main characters’ lives are threatened by the oncoming attack. The world will change forever. Desperation and cunning is the keyword. These stories are action-packed, but within them, a bit of reality must remain. The story goes from saving the family to saving the world. It is a broad sweep of excitement, ingenuity, wisdom and courage. The stake raises when the main character finds his and his family’s lives are in jeopardy. Remember the more the character has to lose means the more his goal at risk. Readers will read with escalated pulses as the stakes become higher and higher.
Lifting the bar to conflict, whether near home, personal, deeply personal, community or world, means the closer the character is to danger and the deeper he is involved in risk and conflict, the higher the excitement grows for readers. Leave them breathless and wanting more.
Read Gail’s novel, Treasures of Her Heart, for examples of strong conflicts in a mystery and romance. Conflicts are needed in all genre.
Multi-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of Christian romance, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction with 64 novels and four million books in print. She is a cofounder of American Christian Fiction Writers and a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at conferences across the U.S. Look for her novels on Amazon or on her website at www.gailgaymermartin.com.