I know that I said last week that I would talk about plot mechanics this week in preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, but I had a conversation with a fellow indie writer that sparked a different topic. The debate circled around one central question: How do you establish conflict?
Because – as you know, talented writer friend of mine – without conflict, you have no plot. So it’s probably fitting that I postpone our talk about the latter until we discuss the former. This is an especially important topic for me as a romance writer; you can only scribe so many hot sex scenes before something goes wrong.
Because something ALWAYS goes wrong when two characters start bumping uglies.
Hot sex withstanding, most fictional genres require conflict but how does one find it? Here are three sources I’ve used to inspire black moments in the seven novels I’ve written:
1) Personal Experience – It can be a scary moment for a writer to take a real-life negative memory and shape it into their writing. When I did this in a dialogue between Zoe and Stacey in BrewGirl, I second-guessed myself as I wrote it. My biggest worry was whether the readers who knew me personally (or, worse yet, may even be the inspiration behind it) will catch the reference. But in the end I thought, What the hell? So what if they do? Creating conflict based on your own life’s experiences – good or bad – can be cathartic and serve as a method of release. Besides…
2) Observing Strangers – I am a nosy bitch, I own that. Growing up in Chicago provided me with ample opportunities to watch a diverse group of people be people. Now that I live in quiet (and not as diverse) Iowa, I miss having a myriad of unsuspecting individuals to gaze at as they go about life’s business. It sounds psychotic but I think every author has a little cray cray in them – which can be helpful when on the hunt for hurt feelings to use in your writing.
The next time you’re out and about, take a gander at the people around you. What do you see? A child having a tantrum with a stressed out parent. A woman gazing through an expensive boutique’s storefront window with a sorrowful expression. A disenfranchised man sitting on a park bench, covered in the grime of the city. Think about the stories behind these strangers. Use that as creative fuel and grow your conflict from it.
3) Favorite Books, Movies, and TV Shows – NOTE: In no way am I advocating plagiarism with this final tip. But if we’re honest with ourselves, artists certainly…borrow from other artists frequently. Nothing is ever truly original, especially when it comes to sources of conflict.
Example: Sex and the City is one of my favorite television shows of all-time. The romantic relationships in both the show and the book it was based on (also a fave of mine) inspired many of the entanglements I made CeeCee and Jay struggle with in the Cougarette Series: a botched engagement, cheating, pregnancy scares. Nothing about those situations is unique to the show or to my books; what makes it unique is the twist. Conflict is pliable in the hands of the artist. You can take a run-of-the-mill idea (wife cheats on husband) and turn it into a Battle Royale (wife cheats on husband with son’s history professor, who happens to married to the president of the PTA – scandalous!).
What other ways do you find conflict? Share them in the comments below.