Conflict, schmonflict. An author grapples with literary tension.

If you follow me on Facebook and other platforms, you may have noticed I am embarking not only on a new book but a new series. I’m currently working on the second book in my unpublished (cross fingers) series Handymen.

As I typically do at the start of a new romance, I  flesh out the various conflicts in the novel. Who has an issue? Who has a wound? How will those various problems spark tension between the characters, leading to emotional confrontations, lots of hot sex and enduring love?

Conflict is what drives a plot, right? I will freely admit I’ve spent countless hours trying to find ways to up the ante and throw new hurdles at my characters.

But how much is too much?

My good pal Monette Michaels (Have you read her books? She’s wonderful) has often said to me, “I don’t like angst in my books.” I understand what Monette is saying. It’s sort of like the wheel of punishment I call Coronation Street, my favourite British soap opera. As the characters struggle with problem after problem, one begins to wonder just how much they can take, while staying sane.

I recently read a bestseller (I mean huge seller, like gazillions) and was surprised at the source of conflict in the novel. Basically, it stemmed from the hero and heroine trying their hardest not to fall in love. Sure, secrets were revealed and personalities clashed, but for the most part, the conflict was all about the love affair.

So, angst.

I always thought we needed external conflict as well. That’s what they tell us in writing classes. Internal conflict, on its own, might not be strong enough. You need to toss in more drama (note, not melodrama.)

So how does a writer find balance?

I suppose the first thing we need to do as writers is decide what sort of story we are writing. If our characters are dealing with some sort of “end of days” scenario, complete with zombies, killer bees and mass destruction, yeah, I’d say we need some more oomph in the tension department. Evil villains must be vanquished. Heroes must prevail.

However, if our story revolves around a quieter setting and more lifelike tension, it is probably okay to scale back on the sources of conflict. After all, conflict comes in many sizes and shapes. Sometimes it’s a disagreement with the in-laws. Sometimes it’s neighbors vying for the ribbon in a gardening contest. Sometimes it’s two people trying their hardest not to fall in love. Of course, not all of these are worthy of a book, in my opinion. The only gardening contests that interest me are the ones in which one of the competitors ends up with a pair of shears in his back (sorry- I cut my teeth with cozy mysteries.)

As I begin my new book, I’m tempted to up the ante once again. How else can I make my characters suffer? But then again, I remember that love and relationships often come with suffering too. Perhaps I don’t need to toss so many angst-ridden Frisbees at my hero’s head.

Perhaps I just need to release him into the world and see what sort of trouble he encounters on his own.

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6 thoughts on “Conflict, schmonflict. An author grapples with literary tension.

    • I feel the same most days although I don’t mind it at other times. Mood is everything for me. Some of my faves are the big heart breakers. ❤

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  1. I have read books where there was so much conflict that my nerves were shot even after a happy ending. I read books to relax and escape. There has to be a healthy balance. Some of the best conflicts I find are ones where there are no bad guys, just people trying to do the right thing and being conflicted. For example a couple with a child from a previous marriage.

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    • Great point, Margaret Ann. I read to escape and relax as well. I don’t mind the pulse-racers but sometimes I want a quieter sort of tension too.

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  2. I want some tension but when I read books (not yours…) where the tension could be settled with a quick conversation… I go ballistic. Thankfully this is NOT you. But I read it so frequently it makes me just find another book. I want a bit of tension, not much. I have enough stress in my life. I think that’s why external tension works a bit better for me. And the two heroes working together against it makes me happier than their being in conflict with each other. All.The.Time.

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    • Thank you, Tracey! I hate the “small misunderstanding” books too, the ones that feel like a Three’s Company episode where everything could have been cleared up easily. LOL

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