Writing Resources: Conflict and Why It’s Important

Conflict!

You need it in a story, and it has to have purpose.

Different types of Conflict

Man Vs. Man

Man Vs. Man is the most common Conflict.  Your character having a villain in his life who just wants to cause trouble.  This is the conflict used with most superhero stories, supernatural stories, and even mystery cases.  Find out who done it.

Man Vs. Nature

I know you’ve watched 2012 or know the story. It is the best example of a Man Vs. Nature kind of story. Man surviving desert storms, the ice age(although I don’t think this is possible in Kenya…but hey, you’re the writer), Floods, Drought, e.t.c.

Man  Vs. Society

This is the type of story that is about one person facing off with an entire society.  They mostly occur in traditional settings, an individual challenging customary rules, and having  a hard time because it’s a challenge to change an entire society.  Most times, this individual may end up being the odd one out, and the story is how he/she handles that sort of thing.  Examples of this are: Mandela’s Story, Martin Luther King’s Story, in Fiction – Avatar by Micheal Crichton.

Man Vs. Himself

This is the type of story I truly love because it starts out with the main character as the underdog and ends with him being the king of the jungle.  Writers that pull off this type of conflict have a great story, one that is shared for ages because each one of us has something we struggle against in our lives.  And the moment you stop struggling and master that thing, it becomes a source of triumph and achievement.  Examples are like the Hellen Keller Story.

There are those who are able to mix all these conflicts in the story, making it complex and exciting.  There are those who prefer to follow one simple conflict, which can leave you breathless as well.  So, it is up to you to plan out your story using the conflict that most excites you and your plot.  Just don’t mishmash it in there and make it confusing to your reader, take it slow and plan it out until it is believable.

Further Reading

Literary Conflict

Literary Devices – Conflict

Writing Resources – Plotting Romance Novels in Nairobi

I’m in a dream that one of these days I’m going to walk into a Nairobi bookshop and find a full aisle filled with romance novels, or fiction set in Nairobi.  So all of you shy Kenyan Fiction Writers, typing away in the middle of the night in your houses, get creative, even though you have to self publish e-books online, until you can manage to get them printed.  Don’t be afraid, and just write. Be Brave as Dora Okeyo and if you already have published, share the link so I can read it.

Today, I’ll focus on Romance Novels.  I know you read them, we need more Kenyans Writing Them.

The Romance Novel

A romance novel consists of a central love story that ends in a Happily Ever After.

1. When writing a romance novel, you place emphasis on a romantic relationship between your two main characters, and restrict your use of subplots to those that support the romantic conflict.   What does this mean?

E.g. If your main characters are John and Terry, anything that happens in your story should be to support John and Terry’s budding relationship to the end.  Don’t include scenes in the story that will not supplement their relationship.

2. Your choice of language is important.  Most romance readers read a story to live vicariously through your characters.  So, make sure your character’s words, thoughts and experiences are as he/she would experience them.  Put your reader in your character’s thoughts.  Confused?

E.g. Terry squashed herself into the full matatu, and tried to ignore the fact that she was practically sitting on air between two chairs.  She felt sweat trickling on her forehead, and blew air upward hoping to dry it off.  Her blouse stuck to her skin.  She took in a deep breath and grimaced as the stench of  sweat filled her nostrils.  Lord help her, she shouldn’t have run to catch the matatu after all, now she was going to be smelling like a sweaty pig all day.  Someone tapped her shoulder and she turned to her right to find a pair of amused dark brown eyes watching her. It was John, her neighbor’s son.  The guy she’d had a crash on for as long as she could remember….

The example above, while very raw gives you an example of what I mean.  Put your reader in your character’s thoughts.  It makes for an entertaining experience.

And now the most important part:

Plot or Story Arc

Basically, this charts the direction of the events in your novel.  The low points, the high points, the conflicts, complications and resolutions, those delicious events that keep your reader moving from one chapter to the next.

How to get started

1. Know the length of your story. 

1. Short Story – 7,500 words or less

2. Novella – 7,500 – 40,000 words

3. Novel – 40,000 or more

Read about the merits of each length story.

2. Characters: Once you know how many words you want to write, create your characters.  Know their names, and how many of them you’re going to have in your story.

3. Plan your Story Arc – Plot

a. Parts of  a Plot:

1. Introduction of the Plot

– This is the introduction or the setup of your story.  This is the part you introduce your character, e.g. quirky Terry, you tell us about her life, what she does, where she lives, and also include the inciting incident that starts the story. Your main characters meet here, due to an incident, or a situation…it’s your imagination….make it fun and write a great first meet. (cute first meet)

2. Rising Action

-I call this the meat of the story. After the introduction, this part of the story is where you have your characters getting to know more about each other.  Introduce the conflicts, making the stakes rise for your two main characters. They could be cultural, economical, social, e.t.c or even personal conflicts that work to pull your two main characters apart.

Learn more about Rising Action.

3.  Turning Point (Climax)

– Your characters make some decisions resolving some of the conflicts arising in the rising action.  It is a major turning point because you fully develop the relationship despite the foreboding consequences.  E.g. I’ll be with you even though my parents hate you…okay that’s weak, but you know what I mean. You can have your characters facing off with the parents at this point with something major at stake.

4. Falling Action

– This occurs after the Climax, and refers to the consequences of the decisions made in the Turning Point.  E.g. Someone gave up something in the turning point and therefore both characters are miserably apart or one is locked away in jail or at home….hmm…well, my imagination is off today, you might have a better one.  Basically it leads to the dark moment in romance novels when the romance seemed doomed, or over. Lots of tears to be shed.

5. Resolution

– This part includes the dark moment, your characters are struggling, and all seems over, but then a solution is found and your characters can have their happily ever after.

Your job Dear Budding Writer is to take all these parts of the plot and create a great story, that will have me the reader staying up all night to get to the ending. 

Further Reading:

The Essential Elements of Writing a Romance Novel

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Conflicts and why they are such a huge part of the plot.  You can’t have a story without conflict, otherwise the plot will just lay flat and your reader will be bored to tears.  So, Stay Tuned.

Kenyan Fiction Writers

On a side note, don’t be afraid to write Fiction.  We’re in an age where you can’t say there are no publishing avenues.  If you can get online, which is everybody now, you can publish, or share your stories for others to enjoy.  Writing fiction, be it Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, or whatever, do it, so that we can flood the market and make it common place to find fiction written and set by Kenyans.

If you’re unsure how, ask, the questions will be answered, or you’ll be directed to those who know more, right?  Right.  Keep Writing!!

Writing Resources – Creating Characters in Nairobi

I love writing Fiction, and as a result, I’m always on the prowl for new tricks to use to make my writing better.  This week, I’ll share some of those articles that are useful, entertaining, mind boggling and a bit intimidating.  This Writer in Nairobi wishes there were more chances to attend Creative Writing Seminars, but alas, the best I can get is reading articles online and buying huge creative writing books. I wrote this blog post almost six years ago.  You can now find Creative Writing Seminars in places like these.  Since improving your writing means never stop learning, I hope these links help you too.

We’ll start with Characters:

Why do you want to improve your Characters?

When you look back at all the novels  you’ve read, movies and television shows you’ve watched.  The characters in these movies, shows and novels are what you remember most.  Harry Potter comes to mind every time for me, or Voldemort when it comes to Villains for both books and movies.  Yes, I might have spent a few years following that series like a maniac.  What we’ll agree here is that the writer, J.K. Rowling, spent a lot of time developing her characters as people.  Harry Potter’s past, his present, his future, his likes, dislikes, his family, his weaknesses, his strengths, you get my point.  This allowed you to get into his world and better understand him.  As a writer, you want to make  your character memorable to your reader, and this can be quite a challenge.

What goes into Character Development?

A. The 9 Ingredients of Character Development

In this article, Tom Pawlik explores nine different things you need to think about when creating your character.  These Ingredients as he calls them are:

1. Communication Style

2. History

3. Appearance

4. Relationships

5. Ambition

6. Character Defect

7. Thoughts

8. Everyman-ness

9. Restrictions

I especially find no. 3 and no. 8 interesting because I’ve written characters before who were too pretty and too elite for anyone to understand.  Most people want to read a story about a man or woman they can relate to.  It’s so easy to write about rich people living the fabulous life, or women falling for very gorgeous men.  The truth is in real life we don’t fall in love with uber-gorgeous men who work out four hours a day.  We fall in love with that guy in your neighborhood who used to trip you and tug your hair, and whose laugh you hated because it made you cry. Right? No, that didn’t happen to you? Oh well…guess that was just someone I know.

B. Creating a Character Bio Sheet

Creating a Character Bio Sheet forces you to define who your characters are, instead of skimming the top.  This article lists categories that help you keep track of your Character’s traits.  Examples of the categories you’d need to write down are:

  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities

There are more on the list, so check out the article.  By the time you get to the end, or choose the categories that matter to your story, you’ll have a comprehensive view of who your character is, where they come from, what they do, what their role is in the story.  This activity helps you get to know who your characters are as you would a friend.

Here are other links to more Character Sheets that will help you learn more about your character.

1. Character Questionnaires 

2. Character Worksheets/Sketches

C. Go Beyond the Norm: How to Make Ordinary Characters Compelling

The moment you think you know all about your character, understand that you don’t, because in real life, we never really know another individual, even your own family.  I think this is the hardest thing to capture when you’re writing a story.

Have you ever started a story, following your character sheet, but you end up having a completely different character in your story?  The character takes on a life of their own.

This can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing, and that’s when your editor keeps saying your character is inconsistent in every chapter.  This happens when you don’t know what your character’s gut instinct is.  Are they the type to help an old lady cross the street, or one to just run on ahead not caring if she crosses or not.  Does your character think of himself/herself first, or does she care first about others?  It is good to know the answers to these questions because you don’t want your character being a selfish bastard at the first chapter, and suddenly becoming a helpful angel in the second chapter without some sort of catalyst.  It will give your readers whiplash.

Pay Attention to Your Own Experiences and Observation

The best characters are the ones we’ve met.  Make your characters interesting by adding the little quirks you notice in the people around you.  E.g.

1. Your Aunt’s strange habit of  adding garlic to the tea because she thinks it will keep you healthy.  Seriously.

2. That guy in the bus who keeps talking really loudly on  his new phone so that you can see it.

3. The Tout who always remembers you at the Bus stop and therefore will never forget your stop.

4. Mama Mboga who always keeps you the freshest fruits.

Those people in your life who add color to it, add color to your story.

So, I hope I’ve helped a little in your quest to create characters and Happy Writing to you.

Here’s a glimpse at Stories set in Nairobi, with Great Characters.

The Perfect Love Story