Join Lisa Cron for an in-depth discussion in this video Story check (Suspense and conflict), part of Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.
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In order to give your readers the thrill of anticipation, you've got to give them a taste of the conflict that's at the heart of your story. Here are the questions to ask to be sure you're on the right track. First, what are the specific this versus that sources of conflict? Can we anticipate what the protagonist will have to battle in order to achieve his goal? Can we begin to calculate the emotional cost he will have to pay? Second, are the seeds of future conflict planted right there beginning on page 1? Readers love being a step ahead of the protagonist.
Have you given them enough hints so they can anticipate the problems that the protagonist might not yet be aware of? Third, does the conflict force the protagonist to take action? The one thing you don't want your protagonist to be is passive, so no matter how much you'd really rather sit this one out, don't let him. Make sure the story forces him to take action. Fourth, if you're withholding specific facts for a big reveal later, are you sure it actually makes your story better? Don't be afraid of giving too much away as you write, because you can always pare back later when you're editing.
Besides, showing your hand is often a very good thing indeed. Now, it's your turn. Open the example in your exercise files and practice by adding conflict to a premise that at the moment isn't terribly exciting.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots