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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Conflict in Writng by Janice Seagraves

Conflict in writing
By Janice Seagraves

Most writers know that to have an interesting story which draws the reader in, you must have conflict.
Conflict = story.
One way to have conflict is to make your main character an underdog.
Why an underdog?
Because people love to root for an underdog.
Example: Remember Charlie Brown, trying every year to kick that football? Didn’t you root for him, even though you knew Lucy would pull that ball away each and every time, he tried to kick it?
That’s conflict.
Let’s face it, no one wants to root for Ken and Barbie who live an idyllic life in the suburbs. 
In my short story, Cowgirls Don’t Cry, I have my heroine, Gwen have a bad day:
Cowgirls Don’t Cry:
Arthur helped Gwen into her jacket and sniffed her hair, getting a lungful of cherry blossom from her shampoo. “Your jacket does nothing for that sexy dress.”
She slipped her arms into the sleeves. “Sorry, but it’s all I have.”
He settled the coat on her shoulders. “I’ll have to buy you another one.”
“It never ends, does it?” Mr. Ortega shook his head before stepping through the doorway.
Gwen flipped her dark hair out of the coat and glowered after him. “Client of yours?”
“Yes. What are you feeling?”
“His disdain for women is like a throb in a bad tooth.”
A chill flowed up his spine. “What else?”
Gwen met his gaze. “Whatever he’s done, he’s guilty as hell.”
That left him stunned, but he had no reason to doubt her. Understanding emotions was Gwen’s talent. Feeling eyes on him his gaze met those of the secretary, Mrs. Blackstone.
Mrs. Blackstone tittered. “You got a clairvoyant there?”
“If you really must know, I’m empathic.” Gwen toss her purse over her shoulder.
“Do you see ghosts, too?”
Gwen must be upset to share that bit of information. She was usually close-mouthed about her abilities.
“You’re good at reading people, then?”
“You can say that.”
“Maybe we should hire you for a lie detector.” The secretary laughed.
“Whatever.” Gwen rolled her eyes and darted out the door.
He grabbed his overcoat and briefcase then followed his fiancée. “Gwen, wait up.”
She stopped by a white, king cab truck and was in the process of digging out keys from her purse. “I don’t appreciate being laughed at.”
“I know.” He jogged the last few steps to her, still putting on his overcoat. “We should have discussed what you were getting from my client when we got outside.”
“You are representing him.” She clicked her key fob. The truck’s interior lights came on and the door clicked. The truck had the name ‘Clarkson Ranch’ on the door in dark-blue letters.
He stared. “When did you get a new truck?”
“Steve gave it to me today.” Her smile was equal parts sadness and pride.
“It’s official?”
“Yes, he saw his lawyer about his living trust and it’s a done deal. I’m officially my stepdad’s heir. He even introduced me to the hired hands. I also had to quit my waitress job and drop out of college.”
He took in her sad expression and hugged her. “I’m sorry. I know how much school meant to you.”
“I wanted so much to become a professional artist.” She shook her head. “I’ll never get the chance now.”
Another way to have conflict in a romance is to have newly divorced Ken, (Barbie ran off with G.I. Joe), have a miserable day—conflict.
Example: Say Ken’s Porsche breaks down on the way to work and he has to have it towed. As he waits impatiently for the tow truck driver, he’s mentally marking off all the things that went wrong that week (conflict). Just after he’s comes to the conclusion that he is alone and unloved the tow truck driver arrives. But a pretty woman steps out. It’s P.J. The baggy coveralls can’t hide her full figure and the grease smudges on her cheeks can’t cover up her lovely face or her Malibu tan.  Maybe P.J.’s father or uncle owns the business, or maybe she owns it herself.  Or maybe she’s not a tow truck driver, but a pick-up service for a car rental agency.
So, Ken thanks his lucky star that he’s spotted this beauty, but when he asks P.J. out she turns him down—flat.
Why? Conflict.  
No conflict—no story.
In Cowgirls Don’t Cry, I have Arthur’s father getting overly involved in his grown children’s lives.
Why? Conflict.
Cowgirls Don’t Cry excerpt:
His father, Ector Castel, had his back to him as he spoke to his sister. “I think you should marry Roger Clemens.”
Arthur frowned. Clemens is the senior partner at my law firm. The guy is way too old for Melissa.
Melissa crossed her arms and glowered at their father. “No, Dad. He’s white-haired and wrinkly. I have no desire to be saddled with a senile old man.”
“Your makeup business is not producing enough of an income. You’re pretty enough to be a second wife for someone of means. And Roger will provide well for you.”
“That’s a no, Dad. I’m not going to be a trophy wife.” When her gaze swept in Arthur and Gwen’s direction, Melissa’s sour expression changed into a grin. “Arthur, Gwen. You’re here.”
“Had to stay a little late today because of a meeting with a client,” Arthur said by way of a greeting.
“Now, that’s what I like to hear. My boy is going places.” His father slapped him on the back.
Gwen raised an eyebrow. She didn’t understand their relationship, so he let it go. If it came up later, he’d explain then.
“Dude.” Will, his little brother, walked over and offered his knuckles in greeting.
Arthur did a fist bump with him.
His stepmother Stephanie leaned into the kitchen. “Our guests have arrived. You can serve the meal now.”
The family took seats around the table. Soon one of the female servants brought out a huge bowl of salad and started to serve everyone.
“Son, you have something to announce?” Ector took his seat at the head of the table, and Stephanie sat next to him. “I know it’s too early to be offered a partnership. You’re still a junior associate at your firm.”
“Yeah.” Arthur hated how his father always rushed his plans. He waited until the wine and sparkling cider were served and took his fiancée’s hand. “Gwen and I are getting married.”
“How wonderful.” Melissa clapped her hands. “You two make a perfect couple.”
“That’s great!” Will grinned. “Welcome to the family, Gwen.”
Stephanie, as usual, said nothing and looked toward Ector.
Ector Castel grimaced. “Are you sure about this, son?”
Whatever your conflict is, you’ve got to either keep it going or bring in some new conflict. New conflict is great, especially if you overlay it with the old conflict.
Example: Charlie Brown gets depressed about not kicking the football and visit Lucy at her psychiatrist’s help booth to tell her all his troubles. Then she basically calls him a loser.
Why? For additional conflict.
Lucy is the antagonist; her job is to cause conflict.
Back to Ken. He’s finally got P.J. to go on a date with him. All’s great in Ken’s life, right?  But what if her business partner doesn’t like Ken and tells him so right to his face?
Why? For additional conflict. That partner is the antagonist for Ken’s story. He’ll keep poor Ken on his toes for the rest of the story.
In Cowgirls Don’t Cry, I have Arthur’s father disapproving of his choice in brides.
Cowgirl’s Don’t Cry excerpt:
“Gwen is still a poor college student.” His father slammed his fist down on the table. “She has nothing to offer you.”
“You’re wrong.” Arthur turned toward his fiancée. “Tell him.”
Gwen had flinched at Ector’s show of anger and, being empathic, probably felt it, too. She stared down a moment at her untouched salad. “As of today, I’ve withdrawn from college and quit my job. I’m officially Steven Clarkson’s supervisor at his ranch. He’s teaching me how to manage a huge estate, so when I inherit it I can run it.”
“It’s a million-dollar property, Father.”
“Um, no.” Gwen glanced over to him. “It’s been recently reevaluated for his living trust. It’s actually worth four million.”
“So, you see, Father, Gwen is worth four million dollars. Isn’t that something to offer?”
“Where are you going to live once you marry?” Ector’s voice took on a sarcastic tone. “At the farm or the condo?”
“Steve has already given me a three-bedroom, two-bath house on the ranch.” Gwen cleared her throat. “It’s being updated.”
“Updated?” Ector echoed. “You mean renovated?”
Gwen nodded. “With hardwood floors, granite counter tops, new cabinets, and a larger master bedroom with a bath that’s connected to it.”
“That’s called an ensuite,” Melissa said in a low voice.
“Um, yeah.” Gwen nodded. “My mom has really good taste and she’s picking out the furnishings.”
“I’m sure you think so.” Ector switched his stern gaze to his son. “Steven Clarkson is a healthy fifty-year-old. He probably has another twenty years in him at least. Are you willing to wait that long, or longer, until her inheritance comes in? No, Arthur, she isn’t for you. You need a wealthy woman, or one who will help you politically. Not a child with more dreams than brains.”
See, conflict. Now, hopefully, you feel for my heroine and hero and want to know what happens next and will want to read on.
I hope this helps you with your own writing.
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