Hooking the Reader and Never Letting Go

 

What is the one ingredient we MUST include to have great fiction? CONFLICT. No conflict, no story. One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see in new writers is that they fail to understand the difference between authentic conflict versus a bad situation. Bad situations do not make good fiction. Bad situations are boring and probably the largest source of melodrama. Today I am going to give you tools to make sure your fiction grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. The best way to ensure your reader is your captive is to have conflict on every page.

The most important component to creating loads of conflict is that our protagonist must have an active and tangible goal.

Conflict is relative. If we have no idea of the objective, then bad events are just bad events. Bad events must become setbacks. How can we transform bad luck to a setback? Give a hint of the end goal.

Want to know one of the quickest ways to get a reader on the edge of her seat? Show a glimpse of the mountain summit, then throw rocks at the characters and knock them off every cliff. If they get to a nice place for a breather, there better be at least a small rockslide to knock them back a 1000 feet. Yet, these setbacks will mean nothing if the observer doesn’t see the end goal.

Too many new writers do not present the story goal, or the goal is passive. Passive goals suck. Passive goals are like “containing Communism.” Guess what? Didn’t work in Vietnam, and it won’t work in our story either.

In my Warrior Writer Boot Camp (inspired by Bob Mayer), every participant MUST tell us what her story is about in ONE sentence. I recommend you check out this earlier blog for a more detailed explication.

ONE SENTENCE?

Yes. ONE sentence, and the number of the counting should be ONE. Not three, not two. FIVE????…is right out! But the number of the counting shall be ONE. Then thou shalt cast off thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and blow thine enemies to teeny tiny….

Oops. Got sidetracked. Okay. ONE sentence. That sentence needs your protagonist, the antagonist, and an active goal.

Recently one of my WWBC participants sent in this log-line.

A teenager must protect the princess of Atlantis from an angry grief-stricken scientist who wants to take her power which will unknowingly release Chaos into the world.

Um, all righty. What is the goal? Protection. This is a passive goal. This is “containing Communism.” It sounds kind of interesting, but do we really get a picture of what this story is about? For all we know the entire story could be an Atlantean Princess stuffed in a human-size hamster ball with the protag guarding her with a shotgun. Not very interesting fiction.

Protection is one of those things that is kind of implied. I recently edited a book for a friend, and her protag’s main goal was “to survive.”

Okay, don’t know about you guys, but survival is my goal every day. In fact, when I wake up each morning, probably my biggest objective for the day is, “Don’t get killed.” It’s why I don’t blow dry my hair in the tub or lick light sockets. It’s why I wear a seatbelt and don’t run through my house with knives.

Duh! Unless we are suicidal, EVERYONE’S goal is survival. Fiction is only interesting when characters have goals that are special and unique, and since most of the world’s population has the goal to stay ALIVE…survival is BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRING!

A main goal to protect or survive is IMPLIED. When Frodo and Samwise set out with the Ring of Power, I guarantee you that they want to protect the Ring. I also guarantee you they want to survive, but these two goals are not what make The Lord of the Rings interesting. What makes it interesting is that they MUST protect the Ring long enough, and stay ALIVE long enough to toss the evil ring into the fires of MOUNT DOOM.

Okay…volcanoes are interesting. Volcanoes named Mount DOOM are super interesting.

So my little writer had a passive goal with his “protecting the Princess.” Boring!  After a sound thrashing from the Death Star as my students fondly call me, the participant came up with THIS…

A popular computer geek and the princess of Atlantis must find the last remaining time machine in order to prevent an idealistic Guardian from stealing her power and controlling Atlantis.

Awesome! Now we have a GOAL. The protagonist and allies must make it to a time machine before the bad guys do or BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Those bad things that must be prevented are called STAKES. Great books have HIGH STAKES.

YES, I HAVE HAD A LOT OF COFFEE TODAY AND I AM USING THE CAPS A LOT.

STAKES ARE INTERESTING.

In this new log-line, there is a tangible finish line and a goal that is different than the rest of the world. I bet you woke up today wanting to survive. Did you wake up with the sole notion that you would find a time machine???? Okay, you in the back be quiet, and if you find one, let me know.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I would wager that most of us did not wake up this morning with the goal of finding a time machine. It is an interesting goal.The writer has now provided us with a glimpse of the “summit.” We also know bad things will happen if our hero fails. STAKES!

When we do not have a tangible goal for our protagonist, this is like dropping him in the Andes and watching him eat his friends to stay alive. Kind of interesting in a morbid way, but we have nothing to root for. It is different than dropping Pedro and his soccer team in the mountains and they have to make it to THAT mountain…THAT mountain over THERE…because there is a shed full of food and a radio.

Before, our soccer team was just stranded. Every blizzard and rockslide was merely a BAD SITUATION on top of a BAD SITUATION. Yet when Pedro and the Halfbacks set out for a particular mountain the quality of the situation changes. NOW there is a specific objective that we, the observer can SEE. Every avalanche that takes them farther from food, blankets and a radio makes us squirm in our seats and worry if they will make it in time.

But still, as I just said, that is just a Bad Situation layered on a Bad Situation. Not really genuine conflict…yet. To ensure GREAT fiction, we need a CONFLICT LOCK (via Bob Mayer again :D). A conflict lock can only happen when two parties disagree. If you have a scene with only one person, there ain’t conflict. Sorry. Navel-gazing is therapy, not great storytelling.

And don’t try to cheat with the She is her own worst enemy. Who among you LIKE those people let alone want to see them win? Seriously. I know a lot of people who cannot stand prosperity and will sabotage every good thing in their lives. They are annoying. Readers want to follow heroes and heroines…not losers who can’t get their act together.

If you have a scene, there need to be two people (minimum) and they cannot agree…ever. In fact, it really has to get bleak before they can work as a team. I find it so funny that I get all these novels and everyone just works together. No one questions authority. Yeah, right.

Great fiction mirrors life and I can tell you from experience that if you have more than three people with the same goal, they will almost never agree. Go run a committee for ANYTHING and tell me I am wrong.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance.

Back to the Andes….

If Pedro and Juan are the only two living soccer players, Pedro will want to keep climbing and Juan will want to lie in the snow and die. And the reader will be screaming and hoping that Pedro can convince Juan to keep going…despite the avalanche that just knocked them back 1500 feet down the slope and took their shoes.

Every scene needs a problem that needs to be solved so that protag and allies can make it closer to the goal.

Big Goal: Make it to top of Big Mountain where there is a shed of supplies.

Scene Problem: An avalanche sweeps Pedro and Juan 1500 feet and takes their shoes.

Conflict Lock:

Pedro wants to continue barefoot to the top of Mount X no matter what.

Juan has given up. He wants to lie in the snow and die.

Stakes: If they don’t keep going they will DIE.

Every scene needs a conflict lock, which means every scene needs an antagonist. The scene antagonist is whoever is in opposition with the protagonist. Juan is interfering with the main goal of getting to the shed on Mount X, ergo he is the antagonist. His refusal to be on board with the party plan is what injects genuine conflict into the story. It makes the reader worry. Worried readers can’t quit turning pages until they get relief…the conclusion.

THAT is good fiction.

Why must our characters never agree? Because if they do agree, there is only so much we can throw at them before it is just wash, rinse, repeat. This happens in a lot of bad action movies. We only can endure so many car chases and explosions before we are bored. Same with our stranded soccer players. Great, there have been 12 avalanches. We get it. Oh, but this is a bigger avalanche? Oh, a bigger blizzard? Yeah. Sorry. Really don’t care. That is bad luck, not good fiction.

Remember:

1. Goals must be active and tangible.

2. Bad situations are not enough. Tragedies are not fiction, they are news headlines.

3. Every scene needs a conflict lock.

4. There must be high stakes; either physical or emotional annihilation.

So what are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite stories? What kept you glued to your seat? What are some books or movies that fell flat? Was it because of one of the reasons I just mentioned? I want to hear from you!

And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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  1. #1 by Charles Warren on February 21, 2011 - 4:34 pm

    Thanks for the great post. I realized in reading your blog that every scene in the novel I’m working on doesn’t have a conflict lock. Your post arrived just in time for me to make the story way better.

  2. #2 by dtrasler on February 21, 2011 - 4:40 pm

    I love the simplicity of your explanation! The bonus is that this doesn’t just apply to novel writing, but to plays and screenplays too – it’s the Secret of Story, and you’re giving it away FREE! Are you mad?
    Someone pointed out that my lack of antagonist was one of the problems with my rock musical. The other problems were the lack of songs and music. And the fact that I didn’t have an outline for Act 2, so everyone had to go home after the interval. I like to think of it as a work in progress.

  3. #3 by Julia Mozingo on February 21, 2011 - 4:48 pm

    Kristen,

    Are you writing a book about your Warrior Writer Boot Camp? I’d be first in line to buy it.

    Also, do you have an online class for Warrior Writer Boot Camp in the near future? I’d really REALLY like to take it.

    I found your blog last fall by reading Jane Friedman’s. I faithfully read all your posts, even though I don’t usually respond.

    And yes, I’ve bought your WANA book … in both formats.

    I look forward to meeting you when you speak at OKRWA in August.

    Thanks for your service to the writing community.

    • #4 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 24, 2011 - 3:26 am

      Sorry for the delay. Been a crazy week. Yes, when I get my social media stuff tended I intend to put together a book on writing :D. Gonna be FUN!

      • #5 by K.B. Owen on February 24, 2011 - 3:32 am

        Girlfriend, when do you SLEEP?

        • #6 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 24, 2011 - 3:34 am

          LOL…I am a master multi-tasker. That, and I learned to lower my standards when it comes to having a clean house :D.

  4. #7 by Albert Berg on February 21, 2011 - 4:54 pm

    I love it when you write about structure. It’s the thing I struggle with most of all as a writer.
    It’s super easy to fall in love with the words and ignore the mechanics of the story itself.
    Thanks for goading us to keep striving to perfect our craft.

  5. #8 by Lisa Vance on February 21, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    Great post! You’re a wonderful teacher. Thanks SO much!

  6. #9 by Lisa Vance on February 21, 2011 - 4:57 pm

    BTW… how will you know we mentioned you on our Blogs and out a link back to you? Sorry… but I’m SO hoping to win!

  7. #10 by Lili Tufel on February 21, 2011 - 5:13 pm

    This was a really great post. I always finish your blogs saying, “Hey that was a lot of fun,” then I realize it was supposed to be a bunch of really technical data. I wish you could have been my 10th grade chemistry teacher. I may have developed a love for it instead of well…very bad thoughts when it comes to chemistry.

  8. #11 by Terrell Mims on February 21, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    That log-line bit was good. The second one was much better. You trained your people well.

    My favorite book that had me turning the page because of the conflict was The DaVinci Code.

    My favorite novel is The Lord of the Rings.

    The movies that fall flat are the ones where there is no clear goal. A recent example was Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

  9. #12 by educlaytion on February 21, 2011 - 5:38 pm

    I sure can’t add anything to what you’ve thrown down here! Maybe I’m crazy (and I’m sure some will say I’m stupid), but I didn’t like Avatar. I’m wondering if it’s because of some of these points you make here or just because James Cameron annoys me and I felt like I was hearing a sermon rather than watching a movie. I guess what I’m getting at is that I just didn’t care about the characters. So even if you have stakes and conflict going we have to care about Juan and Pedro as well. Challenges a-plenty in this craft.

  10. #13 by Cheri LaClaire on February 21, 2011 - 5:48 pm

    I love the term ‘conflict lock’. Wonderful blog!

  11. #14 by Cid on February 21, 2011 - 6:17 pm

    My favorite book in 2010 was Feed by Mira Grant, a post-rising zombie book about how America picked up after most of the country was ravaged by killer zombie hordes. It was fantastic, largely in part because there was always a conflict going on. The team vs the zombies. The team vs each other. The team vs the secret people who are trying to kill the president. The team vs the same secret people who are now trying to kill THEM. The team vs the mole. The team vs the moral delima of “can we kill one of our own?”. It was amazing!

  12. #15 by Melissa on February 21, 2011 - 6:30 pm

    Thanks for this post. I like the term “conflict lock” and can definitely see that I need to work on these more in my current WIP. Your posts are always very helpful.

  13. #16 by K.B. Owen on February 21, 2011 - 6:37 pm

    Kristen – LMAO over the Monty Python reference. We use that around our house all the time. Your distinction between bad situation and conflict really clarifies things! I also appreciate the simplicity you provide for some of us who feel Neanderthal-ish at times.

    Ugg, grunt, type, drool…

    Thanks!

  14. #17 by Avery Michaels on February 21, 2011 - 7:22 pm

    Great post! I can see now I have to work on my scene goals better.

  15. #18 by Delorfinde on February 21, 2011 - 8:11 pm

    If I had read every one of your posts before I started writing, I might have fewer problems now that I’m at the editing stage …

    • #19 by K.B. Owen on February 21, 2011 - 8:15 pm

      I know what you mean – me, too! At least it’s in time as I start writing book #2. Good luck with your edits!

  16. #20 by Janelle Madigan on February 21, 2011 - 8:43 pm

    The timing of this post couldn’t have been better. I’m just beginning the second draft of a paranormal romance novel and structure and plot are always stumbling points for me. I think the first writer in the paranormal romance genre whose work I ever really analyzed for structure was Sherrilyn Kenyon. Early on, I realized I had written a lot of scenes that I needed to write but that the reader wouldn’t need to read. By looking at Sherrilyn Kenyon’s work, I could see the plot arc so smoothly and just paid attention to how each scene built upon the one before it. In all of the books I’ve loved, those ones I just couldn’t put down, it’s because no one ever gets too comfortable. I try to remember that when my characters are sitting around the breakfast table eating Eggs Benedict and admiring the view. When I get there, I know that’s when a ninja needs to come crashing through the picture window.

    Thanks!

    P.S. I’ve also referenced your blog on mine. Very excited about the contest.

    • #21 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 21, 2011 - 10:27 pm

      Ninjas are always a good idea. You can substitute a serial killer if you have to. Too funny! Love the Eggs Benedict reference. Yes, sad to say many of my “litle darlings” had to die because NOTHING WAS HAPPENING!!!!! Thanks for the comment. Will do. Good luck :D.

  17. #22 by Liz on February 21, 2011 - 9:20 pm

    Noooo that is so not fair. I don’t have a blog yet, I’m still a fledgling 4th drafter on a second novel, but I’m still wearing shoes. Does that mean I can be thrown in the hat three times too? No. 9 Educlaytion, don’t be distraught about Avatar; skinny, tall, blue goody goods? Of course you hated it.

  18. #23 by Lisa Ullrich on February 21, 2011 - 10:24 pm

    I didn’t like The Social Network or Eat Pray Love, both bored me. I love, love, love all the Transformer movies and can’t wait for the next one this summer! The first chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo almost made me stop reading the entire book. I only kept on because other people suggested I do. Chapter 2 got much better!

  19. #24 by Gene Lempp on February 21, 2011 - 10:40 pm

    Being in the development, plotting and outlining stage this was a timely post. I’d already gleaned some of these points from other places, including an array of excellent material from Bob Mayer. Can’t wait to meet the Death Star one day, once I have a Millennium Falcon and Wookie friend. Keep up the great work Kristen…and wow, may want to ease the coffee before posting, too fun. Hearts.

  20. #25 by jesswords10 on February 22, 2011 - 12:19 am

    I was wondering how your structure guidelines would work in a non-fiction book too, and then I remembered my favorite read from 2010. A great example for hooking the readers in non-fiction is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. The book cover sums up the tale in 5 sentences (I know it’s not 1, but I promise this will hook you all.)

    “Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and multi-million dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same.”

    Great example of intriguing the reader blending medical advancements in history with the story of a family’s unknown legacy.

  21. #26 by elenafultz on February 22, 2011 - 1:05 am

    Thanks for the great blog! It was interesting and fun (as always).

    I’m curious, though, about the idea that people MUST have heroes and heroines with tangible goals. What about inner conflict? It seems like there’s got to be plenty of books with the main character fighting him/herself…right? Maybe they’re not going to win the “page-turner” category–but they’re still good!

    Granted, there aren’t a LOT of people who are their own worst enemy–but they still reflect real life! What can we do about them?

    Thanks again! I thoroughly enjoy your blog and learn a lot every time!

    • #27 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 22, 2011 - 1:29 am

      Name one. Guarantee you there is an outside, tangible goal that can be SEEN that is a reflection of the inner turmoil. “Joy Luck Club” the protagonist is afraid to go to China to meet her twin sisters. She has to grow up and take on the hopes and dreams of the generation that came to America with hopes of a brighter future for their daughters. It is throiugh the stories of the past that protag finds the courage to get her butt on a boat and go to China. That is physical and tangible.

      “Winter’s Bone”…protag Ree Dolly must escape the curse of being born from a clan that has been warring for generations. She must let go and escape this trapped white trash drug-addicted existence. How? She needs to find Dad Dolly alive or dead before the bail bonds people take the house and land and leave her and two little boys and a mentally unstable mother homeless. The physical tangible goal is finding a body. The inner goal is moving on from being hillbilly trailer trash doomed to live a short and brutish life.

      “The Road” which won the Putlizer. What was the goal? Make it to the coast. What was the inner turmoil/arc? Don’t allow the torch of humanity go out. remain human even though the rest of the world has gone to hell and people are resporting to an animal state of cannibalism. But the TANGIBLE goal was getting to the coast. Every setback we can SEE because it keeps them farther away from the GOAL…getting to the coast.

      “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.” Goal? Sidda must forgive her mother Vivi. How? They send the Ya Ya journal to give Sidda a deeper understanding. What are they physical goals? Sidda is pulling away from her fiance and she is thinking of backing out of the wedding. What is the goal line? A wedding and a restored relationship between mother and daughter.

      “Fried Green Tomatoes” Goal? Browbeaten Evelyn Couch must stand up to her abusive mother-in-law and earn the love and respect of her husband. These are things we can SEE. Every time Evelyn backs down and takes crap off others, we know she is farther from the goal. In the final act of the movie when she screams TOWANDA and rams the car of the same bit&%^$ that bowled over her in Act One, we stand up and CHEER!

      It’s funny, every time I talk about structure I get a comment about the ever-elusive “inner-turmoil- her-own-worst-enemy” book. I haven’t seen one to date. All protagonists in the beginning are their own worst enemy. Skywalker would have gotten himself killed if mentor Obi-Wan wasn’t there to save him from his own stupidity. Being their own worst enemy is like having “survival” as a goal. It is implied. We need more for the book to be considered great fiction.

      “Twilight” is probably the closest to the “inner-turmoil-her-own-worst-enemy-no-real-goal” book, and that’s likely why it made a lot of people gag. From what I have seen, even books that are literary have an outward event. The difference is the outward event drives the character arc, and that character change takes precedence in the story.

      That help?

      • #28 by elenafultz on February 22, 2011 - 4:45 am

        That helps tons! Some great examples.
        I see your point–that there has to be at least a representation of inner turmoil–which maybe IS how we see real life (that is, when you’re having a rotten day, and then it rains, you’re absolutely convinced that God hates you, whereas if it’s a good day and you love your life, you happily splash through the puddles…well, um, I splash through puddles…when nobody’s looking…).

        This is something I hadn’t thought about before. Thanks for always posting such great material!

  22. #29 by Tamara LeBlanc on February 22, 2011 - 2:43 am

    I almost passed on your blog today.
    I’m tired, been writing like a squirrel on intravenous caffeine, and I’m judging two contests to boot. I actually wanted to go to bed…but, I thought twice about bypassing your blog.
    And I’m damn happy I did!!
    When I first started writing, I didn’t realize GMC was so important. But my critique partners, who’d been at it longer, set me straight. GMC was drilled into my noggin with a vengeance!
    But, sadly, I sometimes forget. Im only human. I suppose I get so caught up in typing the words that pop into my head, I sometimes let GMC fall through the cracks.
    Like now with the scene I’m writing, the one I’m banging away at into the wee hours of the night? I realized after reading this post that I’ve dropped the ball. I’m concentrating on world building, and forgetting conflict.
    Whew!! I’m glad this is only my first draft.
    Now, on to your question.
    At the moment, I can’t think of a movie, but I love the show Supernatural. Who wouldn’t? Sam and Dean Winchester…yum:) But I digress. I love that show not only because the heroes are both incredibly hot, and the classic rock soundtrack is bitchin, but also because it’s chock full of conflict. Goal, motivation AND conflict to be exact. I doubt id watch it with such fervor if it weren’t for the writing. Seriously, I can just ogle Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki on line if I want some eye candy.
    So, yes Kristen, I have learned more than one thing today. First, conflict is king! And second, and probably most important of all, DON’T skip the Warrior Writers blog!!! :)
    Thank you for the laughs and your wisdom!!!
    have a fabulous evening,
    Tamara

  23. #30 by Ailynn Collins on February 22, 2011 - 5:28 am

    Thank you for this lesson. It’s so great I’m getting my writing group to work on it. You have a way of putting the issue out so clearly. Conflict is so important and must be SEEN. And I love the revelation that there should be a conflict lock in every scene. I’ve been too easy on my characters.
    The one liner exercise really forced me to decide what the main conflict truly was in my story. You definitely hooked me with this blog entry.
    Thank you!

    • #31 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 22, 2011 - 5:50 am

      Great. If you want to learn more, serioulsy sign up for one of Bob Mayer’s on-line writing workshops. I always put the link at the bottom of every blog. He is THAT good, and the one who taught a lot of this stuff (including the conflict lock) to me. If you get an opportunity take one of his Novel Writing Workshops. It will be the best money you ever spend…aside from a copy of WANA :D. It was so good that the other attendees and I rallied and formed WWBC so we could practice every week what Bob taught us over a weekend. It was the best move we ever made.

  24. #32 by Marilag Lubag on February 22, 2011 - 6:24 am

    Conflict… I’ve read stories without conflict and I realized that it’s boring. It makes the story flat, no flavor. Plot makes the stories less boring (at least from what I figured after reading the ones with plot and the ones without one).

  25. #33 by sharonholly on February 22, 2011 - 6:31 am

    I agree with @Tamara Leblanc. Supernatural rocks! Tons of conflict. Unfortunately, I avoided it for a while because it was frustrating to just write a scene for my WIP only to watch it unfold later on a new episode of Supernatural.

    I thought my story had a lot of conflict, but after reading this post, I realized that, not only is the active goal unclear, but the conflict is lacking because there are too many scenes where my protag is alone.

  26. #34 by Adam on February 22, 2011 - 4:13 pm

    Wow, good stuff. I just found your blog and plan to continue reading.

    It’s very likely that you just wrote the exact thing I needed to hear at the exact time I needed to read it. That doesn’t happen so often. :)

    • #35 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 22, 2011 - 4:21 pm

      Well if you want more, Bob Mayer (who taught me a lot of this stuff) is going to be teaching about character. The link is at the bottom and the class is only $20. His teaching is worth far more than that. I am happy you enjoyed the blog. Thanks for the comment and best of luck :D

  27. #36 by Heather on February 22, 2011 - 11:55 pm

    Can I just say that you kick my ass every time you post about writing! I love reading your posts because nothing gets thru to me like humor and sassiness. Time to hit my young adult paranormal romance manuscript with some conflict lock! Bring it on!
    I read Bob’s blog too and i’m in his Write it forward class. He can say the same thing you do and when you say it, it’s like, “oh, that’s what Bob meant.” LOL!
    ~Heatheraine
    heatheraine.blogspot.com

    • #37 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 23, 2011 - 1:06 am

      LOL..thanks. That is quite a compliment. Yeah, I read all kinds of craft books. Same lessons, different perspectives and presentation. I tend to be a tad slow and thick-headed. I need simple examples and small words or I get lost. I have a hard time learning by reading. I figured I couldn’t be the only one…ergo these blogs. I am really happy you enjoy them, and I hope you are signed up for the March WIF classes :D.

  28. #38 by Patti Mallett on February 23, 2011 - 3:29 am

    Wow, Kristen! Such good stuff! You make things so clear and concise. I had never heard the difference between Conflict and Bad Situations, how one is Good Story and one is just a Boring Piece of Everyday Life. It was exactly what I needed to read! Thanks so much!!

  29. #39 by Jennifer King on February 23, 2011 - 10:55 am

    I, too, need to thank you for this great post. It affirms that it is so easy as writers to become consumed with the story that we forget the big story driven by the main conflict. Great reminder to keep it tangible, and to keep it forefront and real. The one sentence is always a tough one to convey the conflict. Great examples here and discussion in the comments.
    Thank you!
    I’ll be coming back again …
    Jennifer King

  30. #40 by Helen Ritchie on February 23, 2011 - 1:44 pm

    A friend forwarded your blog to me and I read it for the first time. Amazing how such simple sounding advice can make such a difference. I’m putting together my first book and I know this advice will make it a page turner.

  31. #41 by Pam Asberry on February 24, 2011 - 4:10 am

    I did not know the meaning of conflict in fiction until I read this post. Really! I just completed the first draft of my first novel yesterday; the first agent I pitched to suggested I didn’t have enough conflict in my story line and now I see why. I am sending all my writer friends to your blog and just blogged about it myself (and mentioned WANA). Thank you, thank you, thank you! You haven’t heard the last from me! :-)

    • #42 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 24, 2011 - 7:50 am

      I learned the conflict lock from Bob Mayer, but it STILL took months for me to really “get” it….and I had been editing for years. I would just gut the section and have the author rewrite. I didn’t have the vocabulary/skill to say, “Oh, THIS is what is wrong and THIS is how you fix it.” I was like your agent pal, “Um…needs more conflict.”

      I’m really happy this post helped and I really appreciate the comment and the support :D. Welcome to the Land of Weird…I meant my blog :D.

  32. #43 by Laura Pauling on February 26, 2011 - 4:34 am

    Awesome post! I’ve read so many good books. But the last one I finished was a historical fiction: Chains. I couldn’t put it down due to the conflict. And for me, that rarely happens with historical fiction!

  33. #44 by Jenyfer Matthews on March 1, 2011 - 2:36 pm

    This posts resonates with me be because I tend to write from instinct more than plan and my characters have a lot of inner conflict – now I realize that they do also have a bigger goal as well. Good stuff to contemplate :)

  34. #45 by Donna Newton on March 17, 2011 - 7:34 pm

    Kristen, as always you have surpassed yourself. One film I absolutely love is Kenneth Brannagh’s Dead Again. I’ve never really watched it for plot, but then again, until I met you I never watched anything for it’s plot. Now I analyse EVERYTHING! (Mark say ‘thanks’ by the way :D). You have given me a reason to put the film on again – I hope I’m not disappointed this time :)

  35. #46 by Peter Koevari on March 18, 2011 - 12:56 am

    Good morning Death Star ;)

    I really enjoyed the post, although luckily I did my research into these things before i started writing… but we can always improve our craft.

    My fantasy series’ sequel has grown to be so complex, that there are countless conflicts within the book. Some which are aimed to scare the living daylights out of the reader, others to inspire, and some to naturally make them worry.

    I think that for a story to be successful, it needs to be bigger than one dimension, if that makes sense.

    I do like what you said about protection and the survival instinct, EVERYONE wants to survive (the caps is catching on, a plague!!!)

    HIgh stakes is key, but conflicts are bound to happen throughout a story… my aim is to avoid cliches and predictability at all costs. Nothing worse than reading a rehash of the same predictable story, over, and over, and over again.

  36. #47 by Suzan on May 23, 2011 - 6:26 pm

    Dude, Kristen. This post rocks. :)

    I think my favorite thing that I watched recently was the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Besides the funny quotient, nothing in the cartoon episodes were random or pointless. Everything that was introduced had a reason, and there was always a clear goal in mind for the main character, which was actually NOT always the Avatar. I think that’s a large part of its popularity. I’ll tell you now, I’m not a fan of the movie because it muddled the story and cut out the other character’s arcs.

  37. #48 by Marcia on May 23, 2011 - 8:46 pm

    Just found this post and it confirms that I’m on the right track. Just have to make the scenes reflect how important the ultimate goal is, make the antag a little more antagonistic and let the reader understand how great the stakes are for the protag. Whew! thanks, Kristen, you have no idea how much this helps! You really are great at spelling it out with lots of examples!

  38. #49 by Gilliad Stern on May 24, 2011 - 12:59 am

    Thanks for the information, I didn’t realize but I was going this exact thing. When I tried to narrow my story down to one sentence, it came out with a passive goal. With a little bit of adding to the story, I can have a tangible goal for my characters. Great post!

  39. #50 by Nigel Blackwell on May 24, 2011 - 2:41 am

    Good stuff. The log line is (in my egotistical opinion) THE best way to end the “what comes first, plot or characters” debate. It ties them together in the smallest number of words, defines the character traits, AND establishes the conflict lock. All these details are essential, but with the right log line the rest falls into place.
    Best stories for 2010? How could I get it down to one?! Best books for 2010? Anything by Lee Child (with the poss exception of his shopping list…but even that might be interesting), The Last Fighting Tommy (bio), Oh, and something on social media, white cover, gold laptops, perhaps you know it?
    Cheers

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