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How to Escalate Conflict in Your Novel

27 December 2012

From author C.J. Redwine via The Other Side of the Story:

We all know every story requires conflict. And most of us start writing our stories with a glorious, shining piece of conflict in mind. The problem is that most of our initial glorious, shining pieces of conflict are inadequate for sustaining the interest of a reader throughout the entire story. There’s a balance to writing good conflict. A way to pace it so that it steadily grows throughout the story, keeping your reader glued to the page. Here are some suggestions for ways you can escalate the conflict in your story.

1. Use all three types of conflict: 
Your hero should have a difficult internal conflict, relational conflict with other characters, and an external conflict against his environment or circumstances. Developing all three strands of conflict gives your story depth and keeps your reader constantly invested in reading more.

. . . .

4. Pacing: 
The pacing of conflict in your story should look like this: Conflict Simmers » Conflict Boils » Conflict Explodes » Breathing Space » Repeat as necessary.

5. Pacing #2: 
All of that simmering, boiling, and exploding should look like peaks in your manuscript while the breathing space looks like valleys. Your peaks should get progressively higher and higher as the story nears completion. If you have two or three peaks in a row that are all at the same level of risk/intensity/stakes, you aren’t at a peak. You’re at a plateau, and you need to reassess those conflicts and figure out how to escalate them.

6. Make it worse: 
In every instance of conflict, ask yourself “How could this be worse?” If you can think of several ideas, it’s time to either find a way to use those ideas as you move through the manuscript, or make the original instance WORSE. Again, don’t pull your punches.

Link to the rest at The Other Side of the Story

Fiction Fundamentals, Writing Advice

3 Comments to “How to Escalate Conflict in Your Novel”

  1. “Conflict Simmers » Conflict Boils » Conflict Explodes » Breathing Space » Repeat as necessary.”


    Heh, I know I’m not a proper writer so I don’t feel able to comment much on these tips that appear here.

    That one, I get. Neatly stated:)

    “Again, don’t pull your punches.”

    Sage advice. If yer gonna hit someone, make it stick..


  2. I wrote in the comments that I think #6 needs to be carefully done. It should be bad, but not so bad it would take a deity to get out of it.

  3. I like this. I think the #1 problem I run into when judging manuscripts in writing contests is insufficient conflict. I think it was Lois McMaster Bujold who said one of her plotting methods was to continually ask herself, “What’s the worst thing I can do to this character?” and then finding a way to make it happen.

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