Welcome to CAN’s new website from Gail Gaymer Martin. Today I will begin a new series on Tension and Confict which is a driving force in fiction writing. I hope you enjoy the seven articles on this topic.
The Set Up to Tension and Conflict
I recently presented a workshop on tension and conflict. The topic offers many steps to writing a good novel. I began this workshop with the basic elements needed to begin a novel because it sets up how conflict begins. Conflict is a concept you know is vital to any story. It is what drives your story and is an event that causes action between the opposition and the main character. Tension, on the other hand, is the character’s reaction to the event. This reaction arouses emotion of the character and the reader. Emotion is a must in any novel.
Major characters must be vulnerable. They have flaws, weaknesses, fears, and sinful behaviors which they often are trying to hide. Immediately you find tension inherent in this situation. Whenever a character wants to avoid facing a truth, tension creating emotion happens. Another side of these flaws and weaknesses might be the character’s inability or avoidance to face them. It is denial. I am not impatient. I do not look at everything in a negative way. I don’t feel sorry for myself. When you look at your own flaws, you can relate to this problem. No one wants to admit what makes them less than perfect.
Every major character needs a goal. It is something they want to gain or something they want to avoid. They want to gain a good reputation. They want to avoid gossip. They want to find the treasure. They want to avoid being found. They want to find the killer. They want to avoid being killed. They want to find love. They don’t want to give up their freedom.
Goals fall into three other categories: possession, relief, or revenge. The character wants to possess wealth, charm, good looks, success, love. The character wants relief from fear, loneliness, hatred, domination, pain, sorrow. The character wants revenge for a loss, betrayal, lie, robbery, prejudice. You can add to the list with your own ideas that fit under possession, relief or revenge. Keep these ideas in mind as you create goals for your characters. Make sure the goal has issues that will create conflict.
Every novel needs a hook, a premise that draws the readers in and an event that makes them curious or ask questions. A hook is introduced when something happens. It can be the result of a new character entering the scene, receiving a letter or phone call, being offered a proposition, reading something in a newspaper, or a character’s startling statement. Whatever it is, the thing that happens is best when it adds surprise, makes the readers ask questions, or creates an emotion that pulls the reader along.
Next, the “happening” creates opposition to the character’s goal. Opposition is conflict. Well-known writer, Dwight Swain, in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, says that conflict can:
A goal is hindered when another conflict or another goal gets in the way, especially a goal that must be reached before the larger goal is accessible. Complications can involve an accident, another person demanding time or energy, a new piece of information that changes the direction of the goal. Finally goals can be blocked when someone gets there first or when someone removes options. I’m sure you can think of many other things to add to this list.
The next article will cover the Nature of Conflicts.