Conflict on every page. It’s advice I’ve heard repeatedly, and it is no easy task. Just grasping this concept was a struggle for me. I couldn’t envision anything short of Raiders of the Lost Ark or a Rambo movie. How could I apply THAT to the romantic comedy I was writing.
My heroine had caught her husband with another woman. That was good for about seven pages of conflict. Then there was an altercation during a robbery–another ten. Two big arguments between hero and heroine over a piece of property–five pages each. These were good, but what about the other three hundred pages?
A couple things helped me finally get it.
First, I read Sophie Kinsella’s Undomestic Goddess, with pen in hand. After completing each page, I made notes in the margin about what it was on that particular page that constituted conflict. When I finished I went over my notes. Here’s what I learned:
- There was indeed some sort of conflict on every single page of that book.
- The conflict was different than the action-adventure movies I’d envisioned.
- The intensity of the conflict had peaks and valleys, ranging from rip-roaring fights to sexual tension to a general dissatisfaction.
Recognizing the different forms of conflict in Kinsella’s book helped me realize I had all sorts of it in my story that I hadn’t considered. I didn’t need to put my characters in constant and imminent danger. Not only was a fluctuation in intensity acceptable, it was necessary not to overwhelm the reader.
Have you ever read a book that includes one wild, life-threatening scene after the next? I read one recently (or rather tried to) and it was exhausting. I only made it a hundred pages in before abandoning that read. It made me too tense. I couldn’t take it.
The second thing I did to study conflict was to evaluate a sitcom. Two and a Half Men was a perfect choice. EVERY single scene included conflict between two or more of the characters. It’s all conflict, all the time.
I love the Charlie Harper character, and I’ll seriously miss him, but I think Sheen was wrong when he took credit for that show’s success. THOSE WRITERS ARE BRILLIANT!
The lesson I learned from that show is that the characters I create need to be diverse. Creating characters that are vastly different sets-up a story that is rife for conflict. It makes the tension come easier, thus making my job as a writer easier.
Thanks to Two and a Half Men and Sophie Kinsella I finally get it. I finally understand how to write effective conflict.