Today I’m proud to present writer Kourtney Heintz. She has braved something I’m still trying to muster the courage for, which is to attend a writing conference. You might scoff and think this just means she’s perfectly comfortable in a room full of strangers, but no, Heintz struggles with the same issues as the rest of us. So the fact that she still dared to go to not one, but two writing conferences by herself in January is quite impressive. It must mean she’s something of a superhero.
Conflict and Suspense—A Necessity in Any Book
Thanks so much to Martine at Nascent Novelist for hosting me on her blog today!
I just returned from New York and the Writer’s Digest Conference, where I heard a master of the writing craft, James Scott Bell speak on conflict and tension. I’d like to share some of the wisdom he imparted during his workshop.
- The foundation of the story is a lead character that readers care about. That is the soil for conflict and suspense.
There has to be conflict and suspense because a protagonist’s true character comes out in times of conflict and the reader wants to see the character at his core.
- Trouble is important on the very first page. Trouble being anything that disturbs the character’s world. Don’t opening with “happy people in happy land” because it’s boring. Readers are looking for the initial disequilibrium.
“The cat sat on a mat is not the beginning of a story, but the cat sat on the dog’s mat is.”
- The reader’s bonding experience with the main character comes from the stakes of the story involving death. Either physical (body at risk), professional (promotion/career on the line) or psychological (harming psyche or shrinking soul).
Even a category romance involves death. It’s the psychological death of not being with your soulmate. Your life is forever less than it would have been if you could have been with your soulmate.
- The opposition in the novel is not always the villain. It can be a force opposing the main character or having an opposing agenda.
Don’t make bad characters pure evil. All great villains believe they are justified in what they are doing. The best villains don’t just evoke fear, but also sympathy.
- Scene tension can be built by having the viewpoint character have an objective/purpose. He must face a series of obstacles to that objective in the scene to create conflict. If the viewpoint character accomplishes his objective, make sure it leads to more trouble.
Suspense is the “withholding the resolution to create an enjoyable experience for the reader.”
He concluded by reminding us that writers are “styling reality for emotional effect.”
If you’d like to learn more about conflict and suspense, check out James Scott Bell’s book, Elements of Fiction Writing—Conflict and Suspense.