Today I’m going to conclude the series on reader engagement. I'll be talking about using character conflict. This will concentrate on four main types: the unknown, internal, interpersonal, and direct conflict. Like a lot of what I discuss, you’ll find quite a bit of overlap and in most cases, you’ll be using a combination of these. For the sake of this journal though, I’ll be concentrating on a specific type of conflict in my examples, even if more than one applies.
Conflict as it relates to the unknown means that we know something is wrong and causing problems, but we either don’t know what it is, or if we do, the resolution of the problem is based on something that we cannot see. In Wolf’s Pawn, Ambassador Ghenis suffers from the after affects of the Rhidayar Border Skirmish and his role in eliminating that threat. I could have done a better job of it, but there are a few early signs that everything is not quite right. He doesn’t like to acknowledge his role in the battle and while he’s willing to tell Sajani he was present and allows her to read the citation for his Medal of Valor, he does it more for the sake of Sajani being the daughter of hero of Altaza, than he does to laud is his role. He never mentions it to anyone else. In fact, he downplays his heroics by saying he regrets he couldn’t have been there for Sajani’s mother. There’s no visible resolution to this problem. His redemption doesn’t come until <redacted>. In his case we just know that there’s an issue of some kind and there may or may not be a resolution. (It’s also internal).
Internal conflict is one of the best, in my opinion, and is more likely to be under-used than over-used. An internal conflict is one that takes place entirely in the mind of the character. In Fugitive’s Trust, Sajani has…guess what? Bueller… Bueller… She has trust issues. She very rarely expresses it, but it does show up as being a problem. We know, from the title and probably from our own personal experiences, that this is something that can be overcome. We know that Gregor is someone that can be trusted. So essentially, we not only know the problem, we also have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be done to solve it. And that’s ok because your reader will still want to see it happen. There’s no sword play or fancy fight scenes to this type of conflict. Very few people have been through things like the those, but I’d be surprised if there’s anyone out there that doesn’t know what it’s like to lose trust in someone else. That’s part of the human condition and people are more likely to keep reading when they care about what happens.
Interpersonal conflict was one of my very weak areas. I got over it while writing Fugitive’s Trust, but I made decent use of it in Faux Scent. It’s pretty obvious from the first time you see Annalace and Track together that he’s trying to like her, and she sees no reason to reciprocate. There’s a fun twist I see on this one where you keep expecting something to happen where the two get along and then they never do. No matter what you do though, the reader will expect some kind of resolution. We’ve all had people we don’t get along with and that’s usually resolved in some way, even if means the other person died. This type of conflict can also include things going the other direction, as in when two people who used to love each other end up distancing instead of growing closer. As a side note. SPOILER. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know. Track and Annalace do end up getting married. They have a child together. That’s all outside the books. I don’t think you’ll end up seeing them again.
Direct conflict is usually a plot level thing. It involves something similar to the case with Annalace and Track, but rather than involving feelings, it involves physical action. The conflict between Sestus and Sajani is direct conflict. If those two ever meet up, you KNOW there’ll be a fight and I’ll go out on a limb and say that there might be one or two readers that really want to see that happen. In Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series (don’t’ judge me. I liked it), the reader realizes pretty soon that James and Edward are probably going to end up fighting it out. One way or another you know James is going to get it. There are other things that keep the reader turning pages—you need a lot more than one—but in that case the big event is what keeps you going. (So of course, the author has the narrator unconscious for the big fight). Along those lines, if you do use this method, realize that your reader will be expecting an action scene worthy of what you’ve built. Have a decent reason for being disappointing.
That’s a little shorter than usual, but that’s ok. Thank you so much to my few followers. You keep me going. I hope you enjoy these little jaunts. There’s a shortage of writing advice that isn’t authoritarian or angst filled. I try to stay upbeat and encouraging. Writing isn’t a set path. You have to navigate it your own way or your story loses its heart. Be well lovely people.
May you keep running and never look back.