Thursday, January 21, 2010

Five Ways to Create Character Conflict

Today I'm instituting what will be a new Thursday regular-- a short list of Thursday Five. This week it's five things you can do to create conflict for your character, because we all know characters need conflict.

But first, yesterday evening I saw this story on San Francisco Chronicle's web site,, about SF mayor Gavin Newsom's future (or not) in politics. He was interviewed by none other than Maureen Dowd, who has a lot to answer for if you're asking me (and I don't see why you wouldn't). Why Newsom let Maureen Dowd into his office is beyond me, and I was astounded and saddened. Stop, people! Maureen Dowd should answer for her transgressions before interviewing high profile mayors!

Ahem. Now here are your 5 things:

1. Don't let them get what they want.
Your character wants to win a contest? No way! Not even in the semi-finalists!

2. Kill someone off they love.
Nothing creates conflict like grief. Even better is unexpected grief. Your character doesn't care for the evil, smelly old lady down the street who shouts at passersby to get off her lawn? Kill her off and make your character hurt over it--because actually the old lady was your characters birth mother! Oooh!

3. Make your character face his or her fear.
Be as specific or abstract as needed--a monster in the closet (a clown monster!) or a fear of spiders.

4. Make your character do something he or she wouldn't normally do.
Oh yes, Character A. You ARE going to walk straight up to the CEO of your company, whom you have long suspected is an alien monster in a human suit, and who eats human limbs for dinner and then has a car battery for dessert, and tell him that you know he is, in fact, an alien impostor and that you hate him only slightly less than you did before he ate your CEO and put on his suit and assumed his life.

5. Have your character write "chick lit" and then get reviewed by Maureen Dowd. Just kidding! But that would suck, wouldn't it? Actually, #5 is Let your character achieve something nice and then whip it away from him or her. Oooh, the burn, the burn!

There you have it. Do you have any to add?


Gemma Noon said...

My god, that woman has a chip on her shoulder. Any chance she's an unpublished novelist?

Se's wrong on a couple of points, too. I love the fact that she mentions "Brit Chick Lit", as though apparently unaware that the chick lit phenomenon started in the UK. Also, that she put "Angus, thongs..." as a chick lit novel at all, when it is actually young adult.

And, incidentally, what is wrong with American women reading some light and fluffy? No doubt they are all aware of the shitty times we live in. That's probably why they read happy-go-lucky books. It's called escapism.


Incidentally, good post otherwise :-)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Gemma, couldn't agree more with all your points. :) I actually think that the UK produces the best chick lit. When I go over, I raid the airport bookstands because they always put good chick lit there.
But then again I am an unrepentant Anglophile.

Julie Dao said...

Sounds like somebody is going overboard with the feminism. What is wrong with pink and pretty covers? Chick lit is a huge market and I don't see anything wrong with reading fluffy romances. What's the difference between that and watching romantic comedies?

Loved your five points to include conflict. Oh our poor characters, how we torture them :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

I've run my MC through three of these. Yay! Well, not yay for her, but yay for conflict!

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Great post!

I can't wait to toy with my MC in a few of these ways. I'm rubbing my hands together with delight just thinking about it!

jdcoughlin said...

I need to kill someone now. Only I'm not sure who to kill. Only now I'm thinking maybe I don't. Maybe I just do the Rise and Fall thing. Love that.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Jd I was rather afraid until I realized you meant your character.

Amber, I know, it's so fun to be horrible to your characters, huh!

Natalie said...

Such good ideas! I need to use "don't let them get what they want" more often! My characters are a little spoiled.

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