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Why Life-or-Death isn’t the Best Character Conflict – and What Is

24 Jul Life-or-Death Character Conflict

Characters Need Conflict

We torture them, make them fall off cliffs – it’s all part of an exciting plot. So wouldn’t it seem like your character running for their life would be the best conflict you can get? Nope!

Life-or-death is not the type of struggle that will resonate most with your readers. It is not the struggle that will keep them turning pages. This comes as a surprise to many authors, but it’s true.

Here’s the reason why – there is nothing in a life-or-death struggle that actually ties to the character. Anyone can be facing a life threatening situation. It has nothing to do with the character’s inner self, and there’s no growth that comes of it. The character leaves from the fire, they barely survive. It’s exciting, but the character hasn’t changed.

What is the Most Important Conflict?

For a struggle to be truly riveting, to be emotionally powerful to your readers, it has to impact the character’s inner self. Readers want to be caught up in your characters. They want to relate to them, to feel like they’re real people. The best way to do this is to give your character an internal struggle. Everyone goes through inner turmoil, so when a character does, we relate.

You see the difference between that and a character who just fights for their life?

When your character struggles to overcome their flaws or something from their past that’s holding them back, that is the most important struggle they can have. Whenever your character’s goals are inhibited by something within themselves that the character has to overcome, that is when your readers will cheer.

An Example

Let’s look at an example of this in The Hunger Games. The life or death situation is an integral part of the plot. But Katniss’ struggle in being able to love Peeta – that is what kept us reading. The question of whether she will be able to put aside all of her inhibitions to pretend to love Peeta, when he really does love her, is the struggle that we were most interested in. That was the struggle that added complexity to her character and made her feel real.

So, yes, life-and-death struggles are important for your plot, but character struggles are what will make your book stand out.

What are your ideas? What struggles do you make your characters face? Let us know in the comments!

Also, pop on over to to read my guest post – “Four Ways to Fall in Love with Writing (Again)”.


3 Surprising Story Killers – and How to Avoid Them

17 Jul

Man, I just finished reading a book that looked like it would be good – but it was awful. The basic plot was interesting, so I was trying to figure out what had killed it. There were three main things I came up with that we all need to watch out for.

Fake Dialogue

Many things the characters said did not feel real at all. They used big words and strange expressions, things that people don’t really say. I’ll admit, dialogue is a hard thing to nail, and it takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth getting down.

Compare these two sentences:

  • “When it rains outside, I do not wish to go out. However, sometimes I need to.”
  • “Rain sucks! I wish I didn’t have to go out in it, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

You see the difference? Dialogue also depends on your character’s voice and age. Maybe your character really does talk like the first sentence! But probably they don’t.

If you’re thinking that dialogue is something you need to brush up on, listen to people talk. It’s okay to steal words from them. Another great thing to do is read your dialogue out loud. You’ll be able to catch things that don’t sound real.

Unrealistic Situations

Here’s the second thing that really bothered me – many things that happened to the characters weren’t realistic. The situations the characters got into didn’t feel like they would really happen under the rules the author had set up.

Let me give you an example all of us know pretty well. The plot’s moving along, you’re caught up in the mystery, wondering what’s going on. Then you find out – it’s aliens.

The author uses a copout ending to explain everything! The reason it’s annoying is because nothing the writer did set this up to be a satisfying ending.

Watch for this in your novel, because it can be hard to detect. The easiest way to make sure that your audience swallows everything you’ve written is to foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow. Yes, you don’t want to make every plot turn obvious, but you don’t want to make them totally random either.

Bad Motivations

In this novel, the characters were motivated by things I didn’t connect with at all. I didn’t understand where the characters were coming from or why they were doing but they were doing.

It was especially a problem with the side characters and antagonists. It’s not too difficult to give your main character something realistic that they want – freedom, a better life, love. These all work well. But when an antagonist’s only goal is world domination… That’s a warning sign. We are all motivated by deeper things, even bad guys.

The easiest way to see how you’re doing here is to have someone who will give you honest feedback read over your story, looking for this in particular.

Do you see the connection between these three? They all kicked the reader out of the story, all made it seem less real. Don’t do that your readers.

The Secrets of Getting Romantic Tension into Your Novel

12 Jun

Last year the romance genre generated 1.4 billion in revenue. That’s crazy huge!

Even if you’re not writing a romance, do you have a romance subplot in your novel? If you don’t, maybe you should. Quite obviously, it sells books, and having a strong romance can help you get published.

But getting romance into your novel correctly is easier said than done. How do you get your readers to yearn for your characters to fall in love, to cheer when they do?

Here are two formulas to do just that.

Love at First Sight, but it’s Impossible that it Will Work Out

Your two characters meet, look into each other’s eyes, and it’s love. Or they already know each other and secretly are in love with each other. Whatever the back story, they are attracted to each other already.

Here’s the catch. These two characters cannot be together. The better the reason is, the more your readers will be drawn to it. They will cheer, watching those two characters fighting to get together. And when they do, it will be oh so satisfying.

Here’s an example I know some of you won’t appreciate, but it has sold 116 million copies (1.3 million in one day!), so we’ve got to consider it. Edward and Bella.

They meet, and they’re both attracted to each other. The reason they can’t be together? Edward is a vampire and has some secret desires to drink Bella’s blood. Yeah, I know. It’s a little weird, but it’s perfect for creating romantic tension. Because the reason that Edward and Bella can’t be together is so strong, the reader longs for them to fall in love.

Two Characters Hate Each Other, but Slowly Come to Realize They’re in Love

Here’s the second formula. Your two characters meet and, for whatever reason, they absolutely detest each other. One is rude to the other, they’re mortal enemies, etc. Again, the stronger the reason, the more your readers will fight for them to get together.

Over the course of your story they come to realize that they love each other. When they overcome whatever was keeping them apart, readers cheer.

Here’s a perfect example – Beauty and the Beast. What are all the reasons they dislike each other? Well, the beast captured Belle’s father and then he imprisons her. On top of that, he’s an animal! This is perfect stuff for building romantic tension. We love it when they begin to change and see each other in a new light.

These two strategies can be used so many different ways in so many different scenarios. What are your favorite love stories and how did that author get it to work? Can you think of any other techniques for adding romantic tension to your novel?

How to Write Description Your Readers Won’t Skim Over

5 Jun

Why does it matter?

C’mon, let’s be honest here. How often do you skip over description? You’re reading along, you see it coming… a huge block of boring text. You skim it or jump to the next interesting looking part.

But there are reasons you should want readers to notice your description.

Description can:

  • build your setting and your world
  • add to the aesthetics of your story
  • add to your character development (yes, you read that right)

Here’s the beautiful thing about it – description can do all that at once. Here’s how:

What Great Description Isn’t

Well-crafted description isn’t long. It isn’t cliché. Because it isn’t long or cliché, it isn’t boring. Even if you’ve written the most incredible paragraph of all time, if it drags on for a page, your readers aren’t going to take the time to plow through it.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. And be original.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when describing your world. It’s your world, isn’t it? Describe it in a way that’s unique to you. Your readers will lap it up.

What Great Description Is

Here’s the real secret. Are you paying attention?

The best description is told from a character’s perspective.

This can be done no matter what point of view you’re writing from. Even in third person, you should still be focusing from the perspective of one character and writing with some of their voice.

When your character walks into a room, what do they see? More importantly, how do they see things?

Two characters could see the same vase. One might think of how perfect it would be for flowers. Another would think of how great it would be to store their stamp collection.

You’re describing the same vase, but you’re also giving a hint into character. Your readers aren’t bored, because they are interested in your characters’ habits and thoughts. They’re reading what you want them to read, they’re seeing your world, and they’re interested in it.

Any Wheel of Time fans? Robert Jordan was a master at this. The way an Aiel would describe a river is very different from the way a “wetlander” would describe the same river.

Description can make or break your story. What are some tricks that you use to work it in? What are some examples of character-based description you can think of?


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