Conflict

There is nothing more important in fiction than conflict. After reading the Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing Great Fiction: Plot and Structure, conflict is paramount. Whether you write genre fiction or literary, you have to conflict.

If it seems that, by reading this post, a light bulb (a compact fluorescent one) went off – it did. I look back at the first novel I wrote and immediately see where the conflict gaps are. According to the books above, there should be conflict on every page. Sounds hard but it’s not tough when you think about it. The main character of your story needs to endure something (save the world, marriage, self, etc) and that requires conflict. Without conflict, one is left reading about the ho-hum stuff of life. That doesn’t make for good fiction. I should know because a big chunk of my first novel has the main character getting out of bed, eating a sandwich, etc. It eventually leads to something but not always conflict.

Conflict supposedly drives the reader for more. It keeps them engage well past the first few pages and hopefully a hell of a lot more.

I’m done summarizing what I’ve learned from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. The book is worth the investment, and lately I’ve been trying to transfer it to my writing. So far so good. The feel of my second novel already seems different. I’m concentrating on conflict, throwing whatever I can at my main character. At the same time, I’m not trying to exhaust the reader but trying to make it difficult for a them to put down my novel. I should know how this all shakes out in a few months when I have a first draft.

Graphic Novels

I took the recommendation of someone who logged a comment on a post of mine from December. The post was about The Walking Dead television series. I knew of the comic but not necessarily into reading it until I came across it at my local library.

I brought it home Saturday and finished Sunday night. To say the least, it held my interest. As someone who considers himself an aficionado of zombie apocalypses, The Walking Dead holds up. The plot is interesting and so are the characters and there is lot of them. The artwork is solid and well done. I understand why this comic is popular. The zombies aren’t necessarily the focus as are the characters dealing with the new world they’re living in. The comic and the TV shows aren’t all that different. The difference is that the comic moves much faster and doesn’t dwell on too much.

Specifically, a few thoughts on graphic novels. While I did enjoy TWD, I felt cheated by not getting to know the characters. I didn’t feel as invested as I would for a novel. The dialogue is pretty crisp but it’s tiring after a while. There weren’t enough frames that allowed the action to move the story forward.

Keep in mind, I’m new to the graphic novel and my claims really should be taken lightly. I would also add that I read comics as a kid and then a time in my early twenties. But both of those interests faded as I left wanting more from the story. I guess ultimately that’s how felt Sunday night. I checked out book one of I don’t know how many. But, I finished feeling there would’ve been more to story.

The graphic novel is a unique storytelling medium. It allows the characters to tell the story which by no means make the art any easier. If anything, I have a lot of respect for those in the graphic novel arena. Although, I believe it’ll be a while till I jump into my next graphic novel. Until then I can get by without the pictures.

Plot

This is where I think I got my money’s worth out of Writing the Breakout Novel. When Donald Maass did a deep dive into plot, I felt like I finally started to understand how a novel works; what really moves it forward.

Plot equals organization. That was my first take away and it makes complete sense. Most people enjoy linear storytelling (I do) and this is where plot is most effective. By providing structure to a story it allows the reader to play along at home (so-to-speak). Readers have a map of where they started and where they’re going. Now, the literary fiction crowd might find plot too simplistic but the average reader craves organization. I know, it’s a blanket statement but anyone who’s not sure should look at the books on their shelf to decide if it’s an accurate statement.

Maass goes into the elements of plot which are the sympathetic character, conflict, complications, climax, and resolution. I’m not going to dig into these elements but would like to focus on the sympathetic character element. My last post on characters hit on this. Sympathy goes a long way when it comes to a reader connecting with a character. As I’m developing my next project, sympathy is in the back of mind. How can I create a main character that readers can relate to and feel for? This connection will allow readers to root for the character and invest themselves to a whole book. Without this vital element it’s tough to read on.

One of the other takeaways on plot is that high stakes, complex characters, and layered conflict result in breakout fiction. This is what separates the wannabes from the professionals. Constantly raising the stakes in a story with characters that aren’t vanilla in multi layer conflicts breaks open an engaging story. I finished The 39 Steps by John Buchan recently and this book was written all the back in 1915 and was able to hit those breakout marks. Buchan put his main character thru the ringer and constantly tries to kill him. Each chapter, page the stakes get higher, the conflict intensifies, and the characters are anything but skin deep. What I liked about the 39 Steps is what Maass preaches in his book.

The Mad Scientist

This character type is prevalent in a lot of science fiction. It’s a stock-pile character that is a misnomer because we often associate them with doing evil things. Creating a dangerous weapon, a poison, an army of the undead, etc. But they’re also notable for creating things like time travel. OK, that’s the only good thing I can come up – so maybe it’s correct that all mad scientists are evil. Good topic for discussion…

I have yet to use a mad scientist in any of my writings yet but this clichéd characters still offers up some opportunities. Good or bad, I like this character in science fiction to describe or introduce new technologies, weapons, medicine, etc. without going off the deep end and then have them exit – like a good supporting character.

Some of the more memorable mad scientists include: Doc Brown, Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, and Dr. Herbert West. If none of these names are familiar, then I suggest you look them up. They’re not the complete list, but I would think they would come up in conversation when discussing popular mad scientists – how often would that happen anyway? If it does, let me know!