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Don't forget the Conflict -- by Beth Aman

Have you ever stayed up half the night to finish reading a book because it was so good? It's every author's dream that their book would be so good that readers, editors, and agents wouldn't be able to put it down. Have you ever wondered how to do this? Suspense and conflict is the answer. If readers are made of metal, then suspense is the magnet that pulls them to the page. But how exactly does one go about creating suspense or conflict in a story?


First of all, be sure to make sure there's something standing in the way of your main protagonist. It seems fairly obvious, but I've read many stories (and written some too) where the protagonist was just having a happy-go-lucky adventure with no antagonist and nothing working against the MC. So be sure that the overall story has a main thing standing in the way of the MC's goals. I've heard it said that there is an indirect ratio between the character's happiness and the happiness of the readers – so limit the amount of time that your MC spends in a happy, safe environment.


Second, make sure that each chapter has suspense. Even if you have created the coolest scene, the sharpest dialogue, and the most realistic characters, there is nothing pulling the reader to the page unless there is suspense. Every chapter should contain something, either small or large, that goes against the protagonist, and that could turn out one way or another. Keep your reader guessing! It's unanswered conflict that pulls in the reader's attention.


Finally, on a related note: even if you're not writing suspense in every scene, there should be conflict in nearly every scene. If you find your characters living happy lives, then go in and wreak havoc. Turn peaceful conversation into a misunderstanding. Flip a nice gathering into a high-tension situation.


For instance, I'm writing a fantasy story where my MC receives a warm welcome in an Elvish city and is asked to a dance. It was going to be all happy conversation and pleasantries. But then I thought, what if she was terrified of going to the dance? What if my MC had never danced before and was scared of making a fool of herself? What if she gets into a fight at the dance? What if she doesn't have anything to wear? What if, what if?

Suddenly it went from a cool scene to a magnetic scene. Even if the small changes didn't effect the outcome of the whole story, they helped make the lead-up to the dance more suspenseful.


If you go through each plot, each chapter, each scene, and add distrust, confusion, and chaos... well, then you will have a terrific story. Or at least a magnetic one.



Feel free to drop a comment about how you add suspense to a story, or your opinion on what I suggested!


Posted by Beth Aman 16 Aug 2014 at 01:14
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Responses to this blog

Peggyc 16 Aug 2014 at 18:49  
Great advice. As a new writer I tend to spend a lot of time on the internal structure, grammar and choice of words and voice. It's hard to put all that down and look at it as a reader. I'm just starting to see what you're discussing in my own writing as I have critiqued other writer's work here in Critique Circle.
Going back in and stirring things up a bit, giving the protag something to bounce off or work against or even with. Can't wait until I can do that the FIRST time through! Appreciated the tips.Thanks.
Kazahari 16 Aug 2014 at 23:42  
Amen. I've seen a lot of stories, published and not, that were exceedingly well-written...but lacked conflict/suspense/stuff happening. Pretty words don't generate enough interest by themselves. Execution is important, as is writing style. But conflict, character and event, the suspense the combination generates—that's the heart of story.
-Proud member of the Evil Author's Convention Guild

Death is the beginning of the quest for paradise. Life is all the hell one could ever need.

Amaruska 19 Aug 2014 at 17:55  
so limit the amount of time that your MC spends in a happy, safe environment. Great advice! It's funny that readers keep reading to see if the MC will be safe and happy in the end, because it's the character's turmoil that keeps them hooked. Thanks for sharing!
Milana 6 Sep 2014 at 19:18  
Very helpful and enlightening. Thank you very much. I can already see my stories improving.
Colibri 13 Sep 2014 at 23:18  
It's nice to be given a good receipe for success. Now, what about if we all follow the same receipe? I'm disappointed when I see where the story is going—often it's too predictable. Isn't there a danger to end up like copy cats? Just wondering.
Chica__45 11 Nov 2017 at 12:09  
I have this problem too. Not with short stories but when I write novels. There's not enough conflict, the stakes are not high enough to generate interest or content. And the thing is, I don't know how to raise the stakes. This is why I'm liking short stories more and more. But one day, I'm going to write a novel and it's going to have enough suspense and conflict to be a good book.

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