Without Conflict…All You Have Is a Boring Book (Part 1)

Since publishing Black Ribisi, I have been asked to read works in progress by a few different authors. I’d read the samples and find myself asking the same question, for an overwhelming majority of the work. Where’s the conflict?!

Without conflict, all you have is boring book. Conflict is what grips a reader. Conflict is what pushes the plot along. Conflict is what keeps people awake until 2:00 AM, even though they have to be up first thing in the morning. We want our readers eager to see what happens next. What makes this possible? Say it with me…CONFLICT!

Many writers, especially first-time writers don’t put the required time and work into crafting conflict throughout their story. This can have disastrous consequences. Imagine for a moment that you’ve finished what you consider to be the greatest 90K word novel you have ever written. It’s been published! People have purchased, read, and written reviews on your great masterpiece.

You take a deep breath and delve into the reviews, only to see that reader after reader found it difficult to finish your tome. They’d read a chapter at a time, only to get into a boxing match with the sand man. They were BORED to death!

Is this the type of reaction you want to your novel? Of course it isn’t. But it will be the inevitable response if you don’t take the time to be intentional about conflict and how it’s used.

It would be really messed up of me to beat you over the head about conflict and not provide a couple of resources that will help you accomplish this. I’d like you to think about writing conflict well in two distinct areas…dialogue and plot. This post will address conflict in dialogue and next week’s post will address conflict and plot.

Understand that great dialogue in a book sounds NOTHING like dialogue in real life. Read the 9 Rules for Novel Writing article on the Novel Writing Help website. It will provide nine essential tips to writing engaging dialogue that isn’t bland and dry.

I would also challenge you to find your favorite novel, in the genre that you write. For me, that would probably be Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Read through sections of dialogue in the novel and pay close attention to how it’s written. Look at how conflict and disagreement is highlighted within the interaction. Very rarely will you see (or probably never):

“Hello. What’s your name?” he said.

“Hi. My name is Mary Elizabeth. What about yours?” she said.

“I’m Mark,” he responded.

“Nice to meet you Mark,” she said.

There’s no intrigue in that exchange. It lacks conflict. Instead, you might see:

The young man extended a sweaty palm and said, “Hello. What’s your name?”

“Mary Elizabeth,” she said, giggling at the gesture. She thought it was cute.

Before she could ask, he blurted out, “I’m Mark.”

That was her last boyfriend’s name. The one who left her for her best friend.

“Nice to meet you Mark,” she said with a frown.

Or you might see:

The young man extended a sweaty palm and said, “Hello. What’s your name?”

“Such personal information. I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

“Well I’m Mark.”

“That’s nice,” she said. And walked away.

Create conflict between characters and show it through dialogue. It will make for much better reading.

Next week we’ll look at how to write conflict in your plot.

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