Category Archives: Building Tension

Writing External Conflict

It can be defined as anything getting between the protagonist and their goal. The easiest example is the antagonist. The measure of tension is based on the determination between the antagonist and protagonist. The more cunning, and skillful the antagonist the harder the hero must work to succeed.

One thing to keep in mind is the main antagonist of the story doesn’t have to been in ever scene. In some cases, other things get in the way of the hero’s success.

In a scene the antagonist can be anything from the setting to a ally.

Some examples a protagonist may face are:

  • Any character determined to stop them
  • Settings: a flood, blizzard, unfamiliar location, imprisonment, stuck on the road with motor trouble
  • A group of characters: law makers, rule enforcers, and simple peer pressure
  • Consequence from an event: broken bone or other physical damage, loss of memory, loss of transportation, loss of support and/or trust, loss of safety net

Throughout the story there will be all kinds of things to challenge the hero and their success. What’s your favorite?

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Writing Internal Conflict

What causes internal conflict in our characters?

tug-40797_1280Want vs Need:  Often a character is torn between what they need and what they want. An example is marrying for love or money. Another might be keeping a child or giving them up for adoption.

The more heartfelt the choice and its consequences the deeper the inner conflict.

Recovering from past wounds: All our characters should have a backstory full of past wounds and regrets. These wounds will only heal if they are confronted and conquered. Until then the inner pain will stop the character from chasing their dreams or desires.

Dragging baggage through a story or letting it go can be a huge source of inner conflict.

Beliefs and assumptions: How a characters sees their world shapes their reactions within it. An example is their world is a cold place to raise a child, so they may go to great lengths to prevent conception. Another would be if they could only find love then everything would be okay.

It doesn’t matter if the belief or assumption is true. What matters is how the character choose to behave because of what they believe.

Armor or mask: Some characters present a false self to their world. They keep tug-40797_1280aa wall around them or wear a mask as they interact with the world and the other characters in it. Fear of rejection or of judgement can put the mask in place, but emotional armor doesn’t really protect anyone.

In mysteries, its purpose is to hide the killer.

A common source of inner conflicts is fear: What frightens a character the most? Change? Exposure? The truth? Fear of never learning from past mistakes, phobias, torn between two possible futures—making a decision and living with it forever.

Fear of the unknown.

Each conflict demands the character make a conscience choice, commit to it and accept consequences. This can happen once, or repeatedly depending on the character’s journey.

Which is your favorite inner conflict?

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Writers: Can You Make Fear Work For You?

We all know, the greater the emotion, the more we feel alive. It may start deep down, but as the emotion builds, it’s near impossible to ignore. I chose the emotion fear because it’s the easiest to relate to. Everyone has been afraid at least once.

Why drag you down this rabbit hole?rabbit-1

The writer’s job is to tell a story and to evoke emotion. If done just right, the story becomes larger than life and the reader has a great experience. Amazingly enough, some readers, me, want to be frightened. Even if it’s from the safety of their bed. They read horrors and hear every bump in the night. hehehe

Using fear, let’s open a window

Think back to the worst thing that ever happened to you. Imagine it and let that moment become intense. If you’re having trouble, try one of these examples:

  • you’re in a dark room and something uninvited is there with you
  • you wake up trapped in a coffin
  • alone in the wilderness and you’re being stalked by a hungry animal
  • you realize you’ve infected your family with a deadly disease
  • your doctor tells you, you’re going insane

After a moment or two, offer yourself a possible escape. Hold on to those feelings and align them with what your character faces when their story begins and their stakes if they fail.

Stakes and Suspense

Anyone can build suspends as long as they understand where the fear-1940184_1280character’s fear originates and then let it increase a degree at a time.  The more they hope for success; the more they may lose. If they have a natural deadline, the more they’ll push. The more they push; the more likely they’ll make a mistake and lose ground, increasing the stakes.

Do you have other techniques to enhance emotion and raise the stakes?

Writing: Conflict

Within and Without?

In all stories there are two kinds of conflict. The inner conflict each character battles with as they face their day to day business, and the outer conflict the characters act out as the story escalates to its inevitable end.

how it works?

Conflict on the page transforms into rising tension within the reader.

Let’s look at a simple example:

The main character aka MC has a severe allergy to cats, and everyone knows she avoids them at all costs. Let’s also say she accidentally runs over one outside her home when she parks her car. Doing the right thing she rushes it to the vet. He can’t save it and she lands up using her rent money to pay the bill.

MC’s roommate aka RM loves cats and has a rescued cat hidden in her bedroom. She has been trying to get the nerve up to tell MC about her new adopted bestie.

When MC gets home and confesses she spent her rent money trying to save a cat, RM won’t believe it. Everyone knows MC hates cats. Probably ran it over on purpose. MC denies it. Here comes RM big chance to tell MC about the cat hidden in RM’s bedroom. But when she goes to get it, it’s gone.

flora-312815_1280bCan you guess where it is?

Conflict is based on relationships

All three characters are interrelated. What happens to one affects the rest—inside and out.

What do you do to bump it up? Any tricks you’d care to share.

Conflict, Is What You Make It

What it’s not?

Conflict gets mistaken for bantering, and arguing–basically two rams slamming into each other.

The result makes your reader very uncomfortable. Getting so frustrated, they stop reading. Once they are gone, it is unlikely you’ll get them back.

What it is?

Conflict is building tension. It grows because the reader has the inside scoop. The tension is not on the page so much as in the reader themselves.

Hmmm, say your reader knows that the main character aka MC has an allergy to cats, so she hates them. Let’s also say she runs over one just outside her home. Doing the right thing she rushes it to the vet. It dies anyway.

MC’s roommate aka RM loves cats and has a rescued cat hidden in her room. She has been trying to get the nerve up, and ask MC if she can keep her new fluffy friend. But before RM has a chance the cat gets outside. RM looks everywhere but her new best friend is gone.

Both are upset for their own reasons and when they talk about their days MC realizes it’s the same cat.

Here you as the writer have to make choices:

RM asks MC to help find the cat.and MC says what?

RM asks MC if she can keep the cat once it’s found and MC says what?

Does MC play along or confess? Does RM lose it?

As long as the conflict is possible, reasonable, logical; it can be bumped up as much as you want.

Why we need it?

The experience of watching two or more people interacting like this is what the reader wants. It takes some forethought and planning, but the results are explosive.halloween picture, grimm reaper image, emaginette's halloween blog post,

When successful

We can’t get enough of it.

It is why we read; and watch plays, movies, and television.

Safely curled up, we feel alive.

Did I miss anything you’d like to add? Feel free to comment. I love to read your thoughts on conflict.