When creating character and story goals and conflict, there are generally two ways to go about it:
Protagonist and Antagonist wants the same thing (hero/heroine vs villain).
Variation: Protagonists want the same thing (hero vs heroine).
Protagonist and Antagonist want different things, but by one accomplishing his/her goal, the other does not (ie: in direct conflict and at risk).
Variation: Protagonists want different things (hero vs heroine).
I wish I could claim this tool, but I’m not that clever. I first heard this from Fiona Lowe, who had been inspired by Jennifer Crusie, and I’ve also seen Bob Mayer explain it, so I will pass this fantastic nugget on to you, and urge you to visit the sites of those authors for more information on the craft of writing. Again, there are so many different ways a writer can reach their goals, I’m merely recommending what I’ve found has worked for me in the past…
The Conflict Lock is a diagram that can help you create sustainable conflict for your characters, and draft out your plotline. Or, if you’re struggling halfway through the book, it’s a good way to find out whether you have enough conflict for a novel – or a short story. Or if your conflict is weak, it is a way to help figure out how to bolster it.
Simply put, a conflict lock shows you whether one character’s goal BLOCKS another’s.
So, how do we create the conflict lock?
Step one: Draw four squares
Step two: Label one row for Protagonist (Hero and/or Heroine), and one row Antagonist (Hero or Villain)
Step three: Label first column ‘Goal’ and second column ‘Conflict’.
Step four: Write in your characters’ objective in the GOAL column, and what is preventing your character from achieving that goal in the CONFLICT column.
If your protagonist’s conflict is born from your antagonist’s pursuit of his/her goal, and vice versa, then you have a CONFLICT LOCK.
Here is an example from my first romantic suspense novel, VIPER’S KISS:
My heroine, Maggie Kincaid, is mistakenly identified as the lethal ‘Viper’, and finds herself on the run, determined to clear her name. My hero, Luke Fletcher, believes – along with everyone else – that she is the Viper, and is in pursuit.
For Maggie to remain free, Luke doesn’t achieve his goal. If Luke apprehends Maggie, she doesn’t achieve her goal.
If you draw a line from my heroine’s goal to my hero’s conflict, you will see that what she is doing is the source of his conflict. If you draw a line from my hero’s goal to my heroine’s conflict, you will see that what he is doing is the source her conflict.
In essence – one cannot achieve his/her goal because of the direct actions of the other.
Good luck and get writing!
I do not play soccer. In my family, that’s not just unusual, it’s almost a crime, and spawns many a long conversation on the supposed merits of the game at family gatherings.
There is something about the thrill of the game, the smell of the fresh air, the warmth of the sun on my head that I’m just not really enamoured with. Maybe because it’s a winter sport and I’m freezing my tush off watching kids run around a muddy pitch – then have to wash muddy clothes. Or maybe because ‘they’ schedule games close enough to sparrow’s fart on a Saturday morning when most folks would prefer to be reading the paper over a leisurely breakfast. Maybe.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to the game, or any sport. I think team sports are important, fitness is important, developing coordination skills is important. I enjoy watching my kids’ efforts, I enjoy cheering them on, regardless of who scores, and I love that they develop resilience. I occasionally kick a ball around, an activity that is both enjoyable and satisfyingly destructive if the wrong window gets in the way. But perhaps because I attend so many games and watch them with an enquiring eye, I’ve learned something.
Soccer is not so different from writing a book.
Why do people play any game? It comes down to the thrill of the competition, of pitting oneself against the odds to triumph, and the satisfaction of knowing you rule the soccer pitch, if only for one Saturday morning. There are the obvious benefits – fitness, hand-eye coordination, and the in-your-face fist pump when you score that goal (we’ll call this external motivation).
Then there are the less obvious benefits, the communication one learns and shares with playing in a team, working together, learning to offer assistance and accept aid, as well as the confidence and satisfaction one gets from being active. There is the joy of winning and the crushing disappointment of losing. We’ll call this internal motivation.
There may be other factors at play, also – your opposing team member may be the bully or ‘ace’ student at school and you finally have a chance to show them what’s what… Or maybe you do this because your father is a massive Bend It Like Beckham fan and you don’t want to disappoint him, or your friend does it, and it’s a way to get out of the house and hang with your mates, thus avoiding chores… either way, this motivation contributes to backstory, and having a compelling and relevant backstory makes any book interesting to read. Just like soccer, though, when information emerges over the course of a season, so too must backstory be threaded through the course of a novel, and not in one info dump (otherwise you’re that kid – or parent – on the sideline that everyone avoids talking to).
In a game of soccer, you have two opposing forces (teams). In writing a book, you generally have at least two opposing forces (a protagonist and an antagonist, or for a romance, your hero and heroine may be your opposing forces).
Either way, that’s conflict.
Each side has a clear objective. In soccer, the objective is to score a goal, and hopefully prevent the other team from scoring a goal. In writing, your character/s must have a clear goal, and in a good, compelling story, those goals will also be counter-productive.
When you have counter-productive goals that work directly against each other, that’s GOOD, STRONG conflict.
In reaching your clearly stated objective in soccer, you may run into another player (literally). In writing, your character must run into obstacles. For a number of reasons:
• Nobody wants to watch a boring, one-sided game, and nobody wants to read a boring, obvious book.
• When you really have to struggle to achieve that goal, victory so much sweeter and exhilarating.
• The more your character struggles, the more your sideline supporters (readers) cheer on that character.
• The more your character blocks or is blocked by an opponent, the more tense the game becomes.
In a soccer game, the ball is kicked back and forth, changing direction with a calculated strike or a careless bump. Just like the soccer ball, your plot bounces from one direction to another, based on the actions of your characters. Without this constant movement, or plot direction, the game is over, and spectators go home.
This constant movement of the ball creates tension in the spectator as well as the player – will they score this time? Will it get near the goal posts? Will that kid with the bleeding nose stop the ball with his face again? In writing, the to-ing and fro-ing creates tension in the reader, as well as the character. And just like in a story, when one goal is scored, either by one team or the other, it raises the stakes – will the other team come back and equal the score, or possibly win? What is going to happen next? How will this game end?
And as with any book, in soccer there are peaks and lulls. Tension ramps up before a goal – and regardless of the resulting mini-climax, there is always the decline in tension, only to be ramped up again at the next goal opportunity, and then the next. Also, tension ramps up with any clash or conflict, until the ball is kicked out of that tussle and the immediate conflict is over – until the next time.
The entire team are your supporting characters, each acting independently, with consequences for each action. Each character has virtues and flaws, and these traits can contribute to conflict between characters on the same team – he’s a ball hog and won’t pass, or she doesn’t want to get hurt and won’t fully commit to a hustle. If you’re lucky, they’ll eventually get their act together and work cohesively in accomplishing that goal. And if you’re not lucky – well, I guess you’re not writing a Happy Ever After.
Your Goalie can be your hero – and your villain, depending on your perspective. If s/he is on your team, and they block a goal – Hero! If you’re on the other team – villain, and vice versa when the roles are reversed. Each team/character has an entrenched view that is constantly under challenge, and with each practice, each opportunity to develop that skill, there is character growth. Each team member has an opponent – this creates balance on the field, and good, strong competition. Just as your hero must have that opponent that challenges him/her.
And like soccer, it isn’t over until that whistle blows – there is always the chance that things can get better – or worse.
And when the game is over, hopefully those supporters will happily come back for your next book.
It’s great to be here for a Q & A session, which had me digging deep at times. Thanks for the interesting questions.
How did you get started writing?
Okay, now I have to ‘fess up to being an obnoxious teen. Back in the day, I loved to read (still do, of course). Anyway I read this book (nope, not going to mention the title), which I absolutely loved. Except for its ending. I figured I could write better. (Well, I was an obnoxious teen.) I gave it a go and soon realised that–duh!—I couldn’t do better. In fact, what I wrote sucked so badly, it didn’t even score a place in my bottom drawer. Only one option: immediate and total destruction. It was a year before I summoned the courage to try writing again. This time accompanied by some much needed humility.
What was your journey to publication?
Well, it was full of speed bumps. Lots of flitting from hot genre to hot genre (not recommended if you want to find your own voice). Many rejections later, I took a chance and wrote a story in a quirky first person voice that felt kinda natural. To my utter amazement, publishers were interested. That little story became the first book in the Allegra Fairweather series.
What is your “call” story, when your first work was accepted for publication?
When I got the call, which was actually an email, I didn’t react the way I’d expected. Instead of screaming and happy dancing, I went numb. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to get published at last. I kept thinking the email must have been meant for someone else. Until my husband pointed out it was unlikely anyone else had written a story called Allegra Fairweather: Paranormal Investigator. Then he took me out for a celebratory lunch. After that it kind of sunk in, and I did some happy dancing. Line dancing that is.
What have you learned about readers since getting published?
Readers are wonderful! Without readers there would be no one to hear our stories, no hearts to touch, no funny bones to tickle. I love readers. In fact, I am one. It’s hard to be a writer without first being a reader.
What have you learned about writing since getting published?
I’ve learned to juggle. Let me explain.
Last year I was working full steam ahead on the latest Allegra Fairweather story—let’s call it AF5—when I was offered the chance to write a novella for the anthology Carina Press Presents: Editor’s Choice Vol II. To be included, I first had to submit a synopsis for approval. That meant temporarily abandoning AF5 to write the synopsis. When it was approved, I got to work on the novella. Once again it was full steam ahead until I received extensive edits for Island of Secrets. You still with me? Great. So, I stopped work on the novella, and spent four weeks completing the edits. Then it was back to the novella. Around this time I was also brainstorming new titles for both works in progress. Fast forward three months and I’m working on edits—developmental and copy—for both Island of Secrets and the novella, which was published as Dance of Flames.
So I can now claim to be an experienced, if not expert, juggler.
What are you working on next?
AF5—remember the one I was working on all those months ago—well it’s been accepted by Carina Press. All I have to do now is…finish the darn book!
Tell us about your most recent release.
Island of Secrets is the third novel in the Allegra Fairweather series. (The novella, Dance of Flames is kind of a 3.5). By the way, if you’re wondering who designs the gorgeous covers for the series, it’s Frauke Spanuth of CrocoDesigns.
I’m a paranormal investigator without a home of my own. So when a wealthy client offers me a lucrative job on a private South Pacific island, I jump at the opportunity.
It’s not all fun in the sun, though. A dead merman—no, really—with an arrow in his chest has washed up on shore. My investigation reveals a century-old war between the mers and a goblin tribe, who believe the mers stole their treasure. But the real thief was a pirate! He buried the treasure and died before digging it up again.
Casper, my guardian angel and sort-of-but-not-really boyfriend, usually helps me out but he’s acting all weird and busy. The only person left who can help me find the treasure is the pirate’s former girlfriend, who happens to be a forgetful, alcoholic ghost.
Oh, and I’m not the only one searching for this treasure. Someone else wants it badly and they’re prepared to commit murder to prevent anyone else from getting it…
I grew up in a house full of science fiction, history, and other books, and when I ran out of things to read, I inevitably started writing my own stories. I got married at 19 to my high school sweetheart, was then widowed quite young, now have two grown daughters, a very energetic 9 year old grandson and cats. I’m always reading, writing or on twitter (except when I’m at the day job or on the freeways!). I’m very happy to be here today, thanks for inviting me!
What made you want to write THIS story?
I enjoy the Egyptian setting and there was a challenge involved in taking a character like the Crocodile God through an emotional arc. He’s been around since the universe was created yet never felt true love, doesn’t really relate to humans until he meets the right woman! Which puts his immortal heart in serious jeopardy of being shattered…
Tell us about your hero – why is he so special?
Sobek is always depicted by the Egyptians as either crocodile or half man/half crocodile. Some legends say he created the universe from chaos but then other gods came along, like Isis, and he took a back seat. He stoically continued his duties tending to the Nile, keeping it flowing smoothly and flooding on schedule. As a writer, I found him and his backstory intriguing. Looking at a painting of him one day, I realized he was a shifter, to use our paranormal terminology. If the half man/half crocodile form was a partial shift, obviously he could shift all the way and take human form if he wanted to. The ancient Egyptians just never saw him do it! But since I now knew the truth, I could write his story. And most importantly for a paranormal romance writer, he could fall in love with the right human woman.
And your heroine; why is she so well-suited to your hero – or not?
What kind of woman would appeal to a Crocodile God in his human form, would cause him to fall in love for the first time ever? Crocodiles are very sensitive to sound, so I felt that Merys’s beautiful singing would be what first attracts him, sight unseen, as well as the fact she enjoys singing the traditional songs he hasn’t heard in a long time. Merys is descended from a long line of priestesses, so she’s not afraid of him. She continues to do her best to keep the abandoned temple in some kind of order, which he appreciates, having been pushed aside by newer gods. Then as he gets to know her, he starts to understand the feelings of a human heart…
What draws you to writing historicals?
I don’t give myself credit for writing a historical novel as such. I do the research but then I shape my version of Egypt 3000 years ago to work with my paranormal tendencies. Once I decided to involve the gods and to create my own pharaoh, I went into a slightly alternate universe. I gave myself permission to tell the fast paced stories in my head, try to be as true to the actual time as I could be but no claims to 100% historical accuracy here!
Ancient Egypt is such an interesting time period – what made you choose that as a setting?
I’ve always been intrigued by ancient civilizations, how we try to piece together the puzzle of their history from broken monuments, tombs and fragments. The Egyptians were so focused on the aspects of the afterlife, yet you can see from the tomb paintings and household items how much like us they were as well. It’s fascinating to contemplate living in another time and place, and the adventures you – or your characters – could have. Did you turn up a detail in your research that really surprised you? I was amazed to find out how much the Egyptians respected the Crocodile God, hand raising large groups of crocodiles at certain temples, feeding them choice tidbits, adorning them with jewelry for the big festivals, even mummifying them. I knew about the Egyptians’ love for cats but had never heard of the crocodiles receiving similar treatment.
What books/characters did you like to read, growing up, and how have they inspired you in writing this story?
Two books in particular stand out for me, as far as Egypt – Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton. Both told exciting stories against the rich background of history and left me wondering what happened to the characters next. I loved historical fiction, science fiction – anything that transported me to another time and place and had the elements for adventure!
What are you working on next?
I’ve got more stories in this connected series in various stages of editing and submission. I love Ancient Egypt and the ideas keep flowing. I just finished book #3, tentatively titled “Dancer of the Nile” and sent it to my Critique Partner.
If you want to catch up with Veronica online, here is where you can find her:
After months of writing, months of revisions (OMG, the revisions), and then months of just waiting, Viper’s Kiss is finally out on the virtual bookshelves! You can get your copy here.
It’s a little like sending your firstborn off to Kindergarten. You love it (her/him, whatever), you nurture it, and stay up late at night trying to make it better, make sure you have a healthy diet of plot and characterisation, and when the time comes, you bravely fight back tears so that it won’t notice just how much you worry over it, and wave it off with a tear-soaked, snotty handkerchief.
Okay, well, maybe I’m won’t cry – but it is flu season at the moment where I am, so the hanky isn’t too far off the mark.
There’s something about the excitement and anticipation of seeing your project stand independently that is both thrilling and, frankly, nauseating. You hope you’ve done your job well enough so that it can take the journey it must in order to grow, but you know that times can get tough, and you’re determined to be there to support it – and you especially appreciate the support it’s had up to this point – from the patient and considerate family members, to the playfulness of friends, to the discipline of editors (and Denise worked very hard!) – so like any proud mum, I say thank you to all those who contributed, some without even realising it, to the culmination that is Viper’s Kiss. To my wonderful, patient family and friends, savvy colleagues (especially the coven!), and to the magnificent, professional team (editorial, art, marketing, and Mr Low!) at Carina Press – Thank you!
To celebrate the release of Viper’s Kiss, there will be a Digital Download Event on Saturday, 30th July, 1:30-3:00pm, at Burwood Library. Visit my website for more details, and I look forward to seeing you there!
As a special treat, I’m going to share an exclusive tidbit from Viper’s Kiss :
Maggie stared into the hypnotic eyes so close to her own. He was beautiful. A high forehead, cheek bones and a square jaw gave his face the planes and angles that turned a woman’s head. His full bottom lip hinted at a sensuality that his grimness belied. And she had his full attention.
She drew in a hesitant breath and could smell a faint trace of aftershave that echoed the essence of the man himself. Potent and powerful. And he wanted something she couldn’t give. Well, wasn’t that the story of her life?
“I. Didn’t. Take. It,” she stated, her voice low. Luke shook his head, and she couldn’t help the tiny shiver that lanced down her spine as he arched a sexy blond eyebrow.
“That’s not what the cops say. Or TI. Or even those guys who grabbed you,” he murmured silkily. Heat blossomed somewhere deep, somewhere new, and she tried to stop herself from staring at his mouth, at that full lower lip. Tried, and failed.
He shifted on his feet, his stance relaxed as he pinned her up against the wall. Her hands were wedged between them. She took her breath in tiny gusts to avoid the contact that normal inhalation would bring between their bodies. And that was the only reason for her light-headedness, damn it. She finally got her eyes to obey the messages from her brain and looked up. Her brain felt like marshmallow again. Hot, smoking marshmallow. Think.
“Wait, what about Richard Bates?” She’d met the billionaire CEO at the launch of the research project. “He’ll vouch for me.” Her fingers wriggled. She wished her hands were free. She wanted to scrabble against the wall behind her, as though she stood some chance of scratching her way through the plasterboard and brick.
Luke shook his head, his eyes never leaving hers. “Richard Bates identified you,” he informed her. He cocked his head to the side. “How do you know him?”
“I’ve only met him briefly. He told me I reminded him of his daughter.” She glanced again at his lips. She couldn’t help it.
“He’s wrong about me. They’re wrong,” she insisted, and tried to keep her tone light, calm. Luke might be gorgeous, but she was getting a distinct predator-prey vibe from their conversation. She felt like a mouse being toyed with by a leopard. A large, sexy, intense leopard.