Monday, November 15, 2010


I love my critique groups because I learn so much from each person about my own writing. But I also learn valuable lessons from their problems as well.
A dear friend in one of my groups wrote a beautiful novel – a story of family members that suffered great tragedy. The book was eloquently written and the character’s voices poignant, but there was something wrong with the novel. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. At first I defined it as lack of a character arc for the protagonist. Some of the group agreed with me and some didn’t, but still the character arc flat. No one learned any lessons and no one became wiser.
Yesterday as I read Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, it hit me. There was no conflict in the story – only tragedy in the end. Swain says that stories are made up of scenes which provide interest and move the story forward. In each scene there should be a goal, conflict and disaster (or impending disaster). The character has to have a goal in order to act; something needs to happen to make his situation worse; and disaster usually rears its ugly head the form of new information to hook the reader in.
Is this how your stories play out? What do you think about this story concept? I’d love to know your experience.
Sometimes I wonder if my scenes are compelling enough to keep the reader engaged. Character arc can’t happen unless my hero or heroine gains strength from fighting through conflict and disaster. Writing is wonderful. I learn something new every day.
Thanks in advance for your feedback. Christy
P.S. Sent out three more query letters, got two rejections. I’ll keep you posted.


aspiring_x said...

i've never thought about each scene that way before! i've just always thought that each scene (each sentence really) should have a purpose. i don't know... i do think there are all kinds of stories out there, and sometimes certain aspects are harder to see. but i'd think a novel about tragedy would be full of conflict- especially of the emotional and social sort...
now i'm going to have to go check out my WIPs and check for conflict by scene! :) thanks!

Dawn said...

I've heard that advice before and TRY to apply it to each scene, but honestly, there are chapters that I think: Really? Can't I just leave the reader with brilliant description and be done with it?
(Ha! Not that my description is brilliant, but in Genius Mode it seems easier than creating conflict...)
Hang in there about the rejections. Just takes one :-)

lotusgirl said...

I think that disaster in every scene might be a bit too intense for me. I like for some scenes to resolve the previous disasters (at least every now and then).

Shari said...

I read a book called Goal, Motivation and Conflict. The author said that each scene needs all three of these. That made sense to me because it gives purpose to every scene.

N. R. Williams said...

Conflict is so important. I went to a workshop last May where the guest speaker was Charlotte Webb. She said each chapter should play out like a mini book. Motivation or goal, what drives your character. What is stopping them from achieving their goal. Disaster...maybe to strong a word for each chapter but you do need a hook. There are literary books where the character never learns anything or changes, but you still need conflict and motivation.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

surfwriter said...

Thanks Christy. I think I'm getting it, now to transform it into words. I love the above comment about "Genius Mode." I'll push that button on my computer the next time I write.
Lynda Scott

Denise said...

I don't think all stories have to resolve conflict by the characters gaining strength... it may not be as satisfying but sadly as in live there are not always happy outcomes in the end...