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Posts from the ‘Story and plot structure’ Category

The Importance Of Story Conflict In Novels, by Alison Booth

Are you are writing a novel?  If you’re like me, you write because you feel you have to, and maybe like me you’ve got hooked by the escape that writing offers you.

Escape from what?  Perhaps from the confines of your own personality, or your own history or your day job.

Escape into what?  Into another world, and one that you control. Except on those occasions when your subconscious throws up those gifts that are some of the delights of writing, or those shocks that are the curse.

As an academic, I find there are plenty of conflicts in my day job. In universities, as in any large organisation, there’s plenty of scope for conflict.  Personally, I dislike conflict in my day-to-day life.  If voices are raised and people disagree, I always want to move as fast as possible to another room.  Of course, I don’t, and I see first-hand the antagonist and the protagonist in action. This is not the material of the novels that I want to write, although the principle is the same: the protagonist is aiming to achieve some goal and the antagonist is blocking him or her.

In spite of my aversion to conflict in my real life, perhaps the number one lesson for me in becoming a novelist was that conflict drives the narrative.  To involve the reader you have to have compelling characters. To keep the reader involved you have to hurl obstacles in the path of your principal characters and to sow seeds of doubt in readers’ minds that a particular resolution will ever be achieved.  It helps if the protagonist and the antagonist are fairly evenly matched in terms of skill, power and cleverness. This maintains the uncertainty of the final outcome and keeps the reader flipping over the pages.

The conflict of your novel can be external. This is the classic protagonist/ antagonist situation. For instance, your hero or heroine may have a goal to stop fracking in their home valley, They are convinced this will spoil the landscape and may make earth tremors more likely. The antagonist, who wants fracking to proceed, might be their father-in-law, or friend, or enemy or any other person who can block their progress toward their goal.

The conflict can be an internal too.  Perhaps the heroine has some character flaw, such as too much trust, or a tendency to overconfidence, that leads her to make mistakes, resulting in internal conflicts that have to be resolved in order to move her forward towards resolution.

Suppose your heroine faces a moral dilemma: for example, should she act as a whistleblower when she finds out that her husband is cooking the books at the bank where he’s employed?  If she doesn’t do anything, what will happen to all those pensioners whose life savings might be threatened?  How would she live with her guilt if this outcome were to happen, when she could have done something to prevent it? Yet, if she does do something, how will she and her marriage suffer as a consequence? This is especially tough because she adores her husband, who has financed a lifestyle she is reluctant to abandon, and she would hate to jeopardise her marriage.

So, when you’re high on the joys of stringing words together to make beautiful images, dialogue, etc., don’t forget the importance of introducing conflict into your work. Every single scene in your book needs to contain some form of conflict, internal and or external, in order to maintain readers’ interest.

For a richer novel, it’s great if you can have internal and external conflict. The characters will be more interesting as a result.  Don’t forget that all the conflicts need to be brought to compelling resolutions once the main characters have confronted the obstacles you’ve flung at them along the way.  The scene log or matrix helps here, as I discussed in an earlier article.

***Write with novelist Alison Booth near Hobart, Tasmania with Novel Writing Retreats Australia in April 2014

Alison Booth’s author website:

Alison Booth’s bio page


Stillwater CreekThe Indigo SkyA Distant Land     Rotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistWings of FearThe Book of Love

Writing Novels in Australia


Baking A Great Story, by Kelly Inglis

Writing a great story is a lot like baking a great cheese soufflé or lemon meringue tart. Making either tasty dish is a lot more complicated than simply tossing the ingredients in a bowl and expecting it to come out of the oven looking like the photo in the recipe book. An amazing soufflé requires using the right combination of ingredients in the correct concentrations, followed by cooking it at precisely the right temperature for an exact length of time. If any of these ingredients or processes are even the slightest bit off, the soufflé will flop. So will your story if you don’t get the key ingredients right.

There  are many wonderful stories out there. Although each one is unique in its own right, all great stories have several ingredients in common. Memorable characters are vital to a good story. Whether the main character is an adorable, ditzy Bridget Jones or a psychopathic, flesh-eating Hannibal Lecter, great characters help make the reader continue reading. A lovable character is one with whom we can relate. As their story unfolds you find yourself identifying with their problems, see yourself drinking wine and giggling with them, or lamenting over whether to wear the big undies or the sexy revealing ones. On the other hand, the Hannibal Lecter type characters we read about leave us triple checking the locks before we go to bed and wrench us from the depths of sleep.

The second major ingredient that a great story needs is conflict. Something needs to happen in the story If it all falls into place without a hitch, that’s not realistic, nor does it make for an interesting read. Although most of us eventually want to see a happy ending, if there’s no conflict in the story – no obstacles for the protagonist to overcome – and it’s one hundred percent smooth sailing for three hundred pages, that story is going to put most readers to sleep. Readers lose interest when everybody is happy all the time. What does the main character want? Who or what is standing in their way? Is the conflict the inner struggle of good morals over poverty, or caving in to peer pressure? Or is it an external conflict with an abusive partner, or losing a lover to someone else? What are the consequences of the character’s actions? When conflicts occur, the reader becomes immersed in the story, silently willing their favourite character to succeed. When obstacles must be overcome the reader becomes emotionally invested in seeing the bitter divorce through to the end, or if the heroine will discover that her husband murdered her father, or which sorcerer will win the battle of wizardry and rule the three moons of a fantasy world.

There are many other ingredients needed to craft a compelling story, such as exploring relationships, sub-plots, pacing, tension and editing, but by mixing up just the right combination of lovable or loathsome characters and tempering them with the right degree of internal and external conflict, you will be well on your way to creating a story that readers will not be able to put down until they’ve read the final sentence at three in the morning.

Now where did I put my soufflé recipe?


Kelly Inglis’s bio page


    Rotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistHalf Moon BayA Distant LandHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

Writing Novels in Australia

Getting the Structure Right, by Russell Cornhill

Damn it, I’ve killed my second POV character. No, I don’t mean he died in the story. I mean he’s gone, deleted, never to be seen again. Now there’s identity theft.

That means structural changes that can’t wait until I finish the first draft. I didn’t need that right now.

I guess my problems started well before I joined the Novel Program. I had eight or nine ideas for satirical stories with goblins as the central characters. That’s fine except that then I had the bright idea to connect the stories – same world with a background story that culminated in a tenth book. I believe in keeping things as simple as possible but somehow I always manage to complicate things. Some of the ideas were strengthened when I quickly worked out a rough chronology, so I decided the idea was a good one and left it there while I concentrated on a rewrite I was doing at the time.

I started the program with only a rough idea of the first story and suddenly realised that in many ways, the story line didn’t fit the new world, though it was still the best story for introducing a world where the conflict between humans and goblins was to become the main theme.

I introduced the orcs and orc character Abal to bridge the gap between the start of the story and the arrival of the humans. Kain (a goblin character) is the protagonist but Abal became Axal and took on a life of his own. Not a problem except others were identifying with Axal and not with Kain.

Okay, I’ll get rid of him.

I decided that was a knee-jerk reaction and I’d look at ways to make Kain more appealing but the idea persisted. I realised that Axal was taking much of the story-line that should have belonged to Kain – even stealing the climactic scene. By giving most of his story-line to Kain, I was strengthening Kain and getting rid of the constant switch between characters. Not only did Kain take on added life but so did some of the other characters and so did many of the relationships. Axal was only adding complications I didn’t need.

Bye, bye, Axal.

I guess another solution may have been to allow Axal to become the main protagonist but I’m not sure that ‘The Orc Chronicles’ has the same ring to it.


Russell Cornhill bio page

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Boxed SetBeast Quest Master Your Destiny: The Pirate's Curse (Beast Quest)The Grasping Goblin (Grim and Grimmer)Green Goblin: A Lighter Shade of GreenThe Monster's Corner: Stories Through Inhuman EyesWriting the Breakout Novel: Winning Advice from a Top Agent and His Best-selling ClientWriting: A User Manual: A Practical Guide to Planning, Starting and Finishing a Novel

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