Fiction Writing: Building Conflict to Discover What YOU Know


No plan, no map can ever foretell the revelation to be revealed on any journey.
Flannery O'ConnorA committed outliner, every fiction story I’ve ever written has been prepared with (and in some cases, pre-empted by) a laboriously detailed outline spanning nearly 10,000 words. And yet, as faithful as I remain to my plan, the following words most aptly describe the biggest surprise in fiction writing:

“I write to discover what I know.”Flannery O’Connor

Here’s a rough illustration of my (time-consuming) approach to writing a chapter:
1. Action, action, and more action. I follow my outline and take my characters from Point A to B. Packages are received, appointments are met or missed, people and things are going places, often fast. This is my first draft and it’s beyond awful.
2. A layer of REACTION is then woven through the action. Characters pause to reflect, have feelings about what is happening, both internally and through dialogue. I spend a lot of time thinking about what they’ve felt before, and what they’ll need to feel in coming chapters. I stand guard over authenticity. Each character can only have the feelings his or her life has afforded. No out-of-character behavior without explanation allowed!
3. My third draft involves much slapping of my forehead. Not only must the emotions raise the stakes and build the conflict, but every sentence, act and scene must (MUST) move the story forward. Sentences are re-crafted for progression, or cut.
4. The A-ha draft! This is the point when I (hopefully) discover what my chapter is actually about. (It’s never what I expect!) I do this by slowing all action down, grinding out my character’s most passionate convictions, never letting them give in too easily, and I hang in with every individual sentence until I’m satisfied that all character(s) involved are fully and completely uncomfortable and must change, must evolve, must break status quo to meet their goal. Sitting pretty makes for a dull story. To lull is to lose the reader.

We all begin our work, “writing what we know.”
What appears on the page, after we’ve pushed and prodded our characters out on the flimsy limb of fight-or-flight, forced them implore from their hearts their prevailing concern and longing, and maligned them with the possibility of what might happen if they don’t get it, then, and only then, do we discover what we truly know.

What has your writing revealed to you?

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