February 15, 2012

Writer Wednesday with Kourtney Heintz

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 8:00 am
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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.

In this guest post, Heintz shares her thoughts on James Scott Bell’s talk at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York last month. Are you exited? I know I am.

Hook up with Kourtney Heintz on twitter, facebook, at her blog, and discover more about her writing at her website.

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.



  1. […] I’m guest posting on NascentNovelist’s blog about James Scott Bell’s fabulous Writer’s Digest Conference workshop on Conflict and […]

    Pingback by Guest Post over on NascentNovelist about Conflict and Tension « Kourtney Heintz's Journal — February 15, 2012 @ 10:48 am | Reply

  2. Martine, thank you for the best introduction I’ve ever received! 🙂 I wish I was a superhero. But I’m just someone who is willing to do very uncomfortable things and learn new stuff for the sake of her books. They are depending on me to get them agented and published. And I don’t want to let them down.

    Comment by Kourtney Heintz — February 15, 2012 @ 12:50 pm | Reply

    • “someone who is willing to do very uncomfortable things” -> that’s pretty impressive right there!

      Good luck on getting that agent! You’re on the right track!

      Comment by nascentnovelist — February 15, 2012 @ 11:17 pm | Reply

      • Thanks Martine. 🙂

        I’ll let you know how the agent search goes. *Fingers crossed*

        Thanks again for hosting me today. It was fun hanging out on your blog.

        Comment by Kourtney Heintz — February 16, 2012 @ 1:46 am

  3. Funny how we love to read about drama and conflict or watch it on the screen, yet none of us want to live it! My family probably tires of hearing me say, “This story needs more conflict!” while we’re watching TV. Thanks for summarizing very useful info.

    Comment by crubin — February 15, 2012 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks for stopping by Carrie! LOL. The same thing happens with me when I watch tv. I’ll tell my mom, the didn’t hook me or the character isn’t likeable or there’s no tension here. I love that we both watch tv with a writer’s eye. 🙂

    When I wrote my first draft of my YA novel, I had a very conflict filled life. So much so that I escaped into a happy world book. But everyone that read the book was bored by the lack of conflict. Once my life calmed down, I was able to fill the book with tension. 🙂

    Comment by Kourtney Heintz — February 15, 2012 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

  5. I thought this was a very good post. Thank you so much for sharing the information. Figuring out what trouble is can be perplexing. What seems to be a conflict in our minds as authors might not seem that way for the readers. The idea of the cat sitting on the mat vs sitting on the dog’s mat is so simple, it’s brilliant!

    Comment by 4amWriter — February 17, 2012 @ 6:41 am | Reply

  6. Thanks Kathryn! I love the simplicity of that example–James Scott Bell is a craft genius. Creating real trouble and not just inconvenience can be hard. He also showed scenes from the movie, The Graduate, to illustrate how much conflict can be had in a simple thing like checking into the hotel room. Did you hear his talk on revision and plotting at the WDC11? Lots of insightful stuff there too.

    Comment by Kourtney Heintz — February 22, 2012 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

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