Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Conflict & Doughnuts

There are a million things writers need to worry about when revising a manuscript. Scratch that. There are a GAZILLION things we have to stress about.

1. Plot
2. Characterization
3. Typos
4. Dialogue
5. Setting
6. Blah, blah, blah

So you've got what you think is a great novel. But maybe you only think it's great. Maybe it's a long slog that puts people to sleep and makes them wish they were reading a trigonometry textbook instead.

That's a problem.

Today I was reading Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. (Yes, again.) One of the very first chapters talks about conflict. We all know we need conflict in our stories, but have you ever gone back to each scene to see if you're increasing conflict?

You should.

Bickham says each scene must have the following:

1. A goal. Stephanie needs to go to Egypt to research Hatshepsut's temple.
2. Introduction or development of conflict. Stephanie is a starving college student (thank goodness I'm not anymore) and can't afford to pay for the trip.
3. A tactical DISASTER, a failure to reach the goal. Stephanie starts panhandling on the street, but people only give her doughnuts and EgyptAir won't accept doughnuts as currency, no matter how much chocolate they have slathered on them.


Your protagonist should end each scene worse off than where he/she started. Otherwise, you've decreased conflict and now your reader doesn't care about the story anymore.

Now, Bickham cautions against making the goals too small or too large, but that's a post for another time. If you're revising, have you checked to make sure each of your scenes contains the necessary ingredients?


Joshua McCune said...

Um, doughnuts. I'm not sure I'm for the up the ante at every turn motif (though this is something I tend toward myself) -- as long as there's something on the line or a big question unresolved, I think quiescent moments can be good for the story b/c you give the reader a chance to take a breath and your character a chance to develop outside the action-backed drive.

L. T. Host said...

Great, now I want a doughnut. Ugh... wedding diet derailing for a stop at the nearest Dunkin'...

Anyway, I write by this philosophy too! It's a must that every scene have a drive, though I don't know, like Bane, that every scene needs to have such a structured raising of the stakes. As long as it shows something important about your character or relevant info for the story, it has a purpose. I think.

Café Lopez said...

I prefer a system of give and take. Give the reader something to satiate her mounting investment in the book (answers/tiny resolutions), take her deeper into the story by raising more questions/creating additional conflicts.

Unknown said...

structure . . . *runs away screaming*

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have that book. Maybe I should open it up - probably more useful that way. :)