The Gearheart – A Free Audiobook

Tag: conflict

The Gearbox: Conflict with J.C. Hutchins

by on Nov.19, 2009, under Podcast, The Gearbox

7SD_cover_RGBIt was my honor and privilege to step into the studio with the incomparable J.C. Hutchins, author of the 7th Son trilogy and Personal Effects: Dark Arts. As a thriller novelist, Hutchins understands conflict better than most, and he is eager to share his knowledge. So sit down, pour a cup of tea and enjoy, as we bring you the secrets behind conflict.

1 Comment :, , , more...

The Gearbox: Conflict II: Return to Conflict Mountain

by on May.20, 2009, under The Gearbox

Hey, everyone! I know that I talked a lot about conflict in an earlier Gearbox, but I thought I would revisit it after a great visit with a writer friend yesterday.

Before I get down into the nuts and bolts of this week’s Gearbox, let’s talk for a moment about Phineas T. Barnum. For those of you who don’t know who he is, P.T. Barnum is the founder of Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, also called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The man was a brilliant amateur psychologist and a consummate showman, and he knew a thing or two about what audiences wanted to see. And from this glorious man, we receive two of the greatest quotes ever to grace the ears of mankind. The first is, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The second quote is the rule of writing romance:

“Always leave them wanting more.”

When people read a romance, what do they want to see? On the surface, they think that they want to see a relationship where everything goes well, and things are consummated with little to-do. However, what makes people turn a page is that feeling of tension. When it comes to writing a romance, if you really want to capture that feeling of first love, you can’t just have your characters meet, then jump into bed. That’s too easy. It vents the pressure on your story, and while temporarily satisfying, it really doesn’t help your narrative in the long run. Your characters have to long for each other, yet be oblivious to each others’ needs. There must be moments when characters are precariously close to a kiss, only to be interrupted awkwardly with something that cannot be ignored. Model your two characters like you would magnets- get them close together but never let them touch, and you will be rewarded with the energy you need to power your story.

However, this post is not about romance. Who knew?

The post is really about danger and mortal conflict. It’s about turning a scene on it’s head and scaring the bejeezus out of your reader. It’s about convincing your audience that there is no way that your main character can survive the situation that the main character is in, even though that character should be nigh-unkillable. It’s about convincing your reader that you are heartless, that no one is sacred and that anything in your story can be destroyed.

Now I appreciate Barnum’s old adage more than a lot of people. I believe that the guy was a genius, and that his paradigm had its applications, but to create a lasting memory of your great epic combat, we’re going to have to throw that idea out the window. Let me tell you a successful recipe for an addictive, action-packed, third-act denoument downhill slide that’ll knock a reader’s socks off:

STEP 1: Start with an organically-generated plot. If you’re not sure what I mean, you can check out my post on the matter. You’ll need a high degree of character-based predictability. You want your reader to feel like, based upon the character’s previous actions, they know exactly what the character will do next. The reader should feel like the character has a clear line of sight to his or her goal, and that things will probably work out just fine. So to recap- understandable character, predictable actions, predictable outcome.

STEP 2: Turn it on its head by making the situation go from slightly unpleasant to hellish. Give your characters little time to react. Have the airship armada arrive over the open field where the characters are sleeping. Maybe the power goes out on the anti-zombie protection grid. Maybe the character’s best friend is actually a traitor. Whatever. Just come up with the cruelest thing you can do and DO IT.

STEP 3: And this one is the kicker- Repeat steps 1 and 2. Let your characters get adjusted to their crappy new reality, then ram something even worse down their throats. Show them the meaning of suffering. Teach them fear that your audience could never have even imagined. Do these things, and your audience won’t be able to put the book down. Once you’re out of the second act, your characters should never be safe, never be comfortable.

So there you have it. If I could have a rule for love, it would be, “Always leave them wanting more,” but if I could have a rule for conflict, it would be, “BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!”

How about you? Have you seen this formula successfully employed?

1 Comment :, , , , , , more...

The Gearbox: Anatomy of a Scene

by on Apr.01, 2009, under The Gearbox

Just kidding! I could never presume to cover a topic like that, considering my status as an unpublished, two-book writer. No, what we’re covering today is not the whole anatomy of a scene, but rather the heart of it- conflict.

Let me just lay this out there- I am a huge hypocrite. I’m telling you all of this when I KNOW that there are scenes in The Gearheart that violate these rules. In fact, when I go back through to write a redraft, you had better believe that those scenes will be gone. Not one of them will survive.

So, according to David Mamet, there are only three important parts of a scene. I don’t want to agree with any statements of direct formula for writing, but I begrudgingly admit that I can’t really find times that I disagree with what Mamet has to say. Mamet states that the following create the conflict in a scene:

1) Who wants what?
2) From whom do they want it?
3) What’s going to happen when they don’t get it?

And it’s that simple! I would love to say, “Hey, this is common sense! Everyone knows that’s how you create conflict,” but I can’t, because I never really thought it out like that. I have several scenes that don’t work out like that, or lack one of those three answers. Let’s break down two scenes, shall we?

The Death Star Trench Run
Luke is skimming along the Death Star trench in his X-wing fighter. Most of his friends are dead. If HE doesn’t destroy the Death star, no one will, and all of his Rebel friends will be destroyed.

1) Who wants what?
Luke wants to destroy the Death Star.

2) From whom do they want it?
It’s a tricky statement, but I guess you could say, “He wants it from the Death Star.”

3) What’s going to happen if they don’t get it?
All the Rebels die, issuing in a new era of galactic terror (read: “prosperity for humans”).

That one was very simple, because the conflicts were primarily external. Now let’s take a second scene that features only one character. I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but I’m going to use one of my scenes because many of you are probably somewhat familiar.

Keegan’s Dilemma
It’s early in the morning, and Keegan is drinking. He is torn apart thinking of how the death of one of his old Agents may have been his fault. Augustus pulls up on a motorcycle and tells Keegan that Isabelle has been attacked. That doesn’t sound like conflict, right? Let’s break it down.

1) Who wants what?
The question here is one of absolution. Keegan needs forgiveness for his sins, whether real or perceived. Keegan wants a mind that is in balance, free of cognitive dissonance, and so he must confront his past.

2) From whom do they want it?
Keegan wants forgiveness from the toughest critic of all- himself. You are the least likely person to forgive yourself in most circumstances, unless you’re a sociopath like Patrick Bateman.

3) What’s going to happen if they don’t get it?
This is probably the most abstract part of the scene, and it’s where I have probably not been clear enough. Keegan is drinking in the mornings. Keegan goes back on his promises. Keegan changes tactics to keep the team safe for the moment, rather than get the job done. In effect, Keegan has become a coward, only playing the safe game. If Keegan does not overcome his past choices, he will not be a good Headmaster. In this case, his failure in the face of adversity could negatively impact the human race as a whole (but he doesn’t know that).

This trifecta of information, this Triforce of conflict, is so absolutely important to a scene. Let me add something, though:

4) Who’s stopping them?
Now, this is actually a sub-question of #2, “From whom do they want it?” However, I think you’ll find that explicitly asking yourself this question prior to writing any scene will cause your scene to take shape in a more understandable way.

I didn’t hear Mamet mention this in the interview, so if he did, my apologies. In essence, there are only two types of conflict- external and internal. Either a character wants something from someone else- external- or they want something from themselves- internal. Scenes of external conflict tend to be violent or action-oriented. Scenes of internal conflict often have a lot of hidden subtleties. To make matters more hazy, you should know that a single scene can contain several conflicts, each with a set of questions all to itself. Let’s answer question #4 for Keegan’s dilemma.

4) Who’s stopping them?
Keegan, being the caring person that he is, is unable to forgive himself. Easy, right?

The answer to #4 for the Death Star Trench Run isn’t quite as clear.

4) Who’s stopping them?
-A: Darth Freaking Vader
-B: Here’s the fun one. Luke is a naive individual who only trusts that which he can observe with his eyes. Torn between his eyes and his heart, Luke finds himself unable to ponder the deeper mysteries of the universe because of his inability to move past his mental limitations. Unfortunately, one of those mysteries of the universe is how to use the Force, and without the Force, there is no way that Luke will make the killing shot to the Death Star. He must learn to let go of everything around him, when everything around him is threatening to kill him. He must learn to trust… his instincts… Luke.

That scene is way better than my scene! Oh, well. I’ll just have to find a way to spice up Keegan’s Dilemma. Perhaps I could throw in some TIE Fighters?

1 Comment :, , , more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!