A Writer’s Dilemma: The Problem With Conflict

It’s pretty obvious that one of the central components to a story is the conflict.

It doesn’t matter what the conflict is: fighting the Dark Lord, winning the beef cake, or keeping the world from losing its Twinkies.

There just has to be a problem for the protagonist to solve.

I am good at coming up with conflict.

My characters suffer horribly at my hands.

The problem with getting your characters into terrible situations, however, is that, eventually, you have to get them out.

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Sure, it’s easy to say the character needs to overthrow a corrupt government and ward off an alien incursion, but how would they go about doing that? Where would they even begin? Especially when these people have no military training or exemplary fighting skills?

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I expect them to have a clue what to do when even I wouldn’t know how to act in these situations.

There they are, strapped to a chair with a bomb that’s set to go off at any moment. They rock their chair from side to side desperately before turning to me in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

“Writer!” they scream, “what do I do?!”

Me:

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Eh, I’ll get back to you when the answer comes to me during a 6 a.m. shower. You can wait that long, can’t you?

Them:

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Me:

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On the bright side, maybe if the solution is a surprise to me it’ll be a surprise to the reader as well. Or perhaps I’m just playing one long game of mental hide-and-seek with myself. Only time will tell.

My Novella is a Novel Now

I suspected this day would come. I had just hoped I would be more ready for it.

I realized upon rereading the most recent draft of my latest project that I would not be able to do my characters justice in such a short amount of time.

If I want to tell the story and give it the emotional gut-punch it needs, I will have to increase the length and expand it into a full-length piece.

My original plan was to go big and then just chip away at it piece by piece until it was the right length. However, the longer I write the less likely that seems. The story keeps getting bigger and bigger, the characters have more and more to say. A measly 65 pages won’t suffice.

It has to be a novel.

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But Rachael, you say, what’s wrong with a novel? After all, novels are what really make money. 

Yes. But I am a painfully slow writer. It takes me, on average, two to three hours to write two pages and that’s if I know what I’m doing.

I expected to knock this bad boy out in a month or two. Now it will likely take me over a year.

You don’t understand how many projects I have planned already. Now they will be backlogged forever. Or at least until someone else comes up with the same idea I had and publishes it first.

I love writing this story, but….

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I have another time travel story, a crazy writer story, and a fantasy story all waiting for me to return to them and here I am hacking away at this monster of a project.

Sigh.

Well, there’s nothing for it.

I need to get back to work on this thing, or who knows how long it will take for me to complete it.

For everyone else is NaNoWriMo. For me it’s OhMyGoHoAmIStOnThChMo– Oh My God How Am I Still On This Chapter Month.

Good luck on your projects, good reader. I will need it with my current endeavor.

Word Count Goals

I see tweets all the time about writing goals. Goals are good. Goals help motivate. But I’ve never been good at them.

Deadlines help but I still struggle to meet them. A friend of mine gave me a deadline for two weeks and I think I emailed her the finished project about a month later.

Word goals? Forget about it.

I’ve had enough of those from years and years of being a student, trying desperately to meet the criteria for an essay, that I’m not putting myself though that sort of torture for a creative writing project.

In my mind, it’s time to stop writing when it’s time to stop writing.

A story ends when it’s over.

Usually, I feel that little inkling inside when the story’s events are coming to a close, and I try to listen to that sensation. I’ve never been good with numbers so I don’t take much notice of whether my work is 60k or 20k.

I only care about pacing and giving my plot room to breathe.

Everything else is semantics in my mind.

I’m glad the word count method works for some people, I just don’t think it’s right for me.

Don’t Want No NaNoWriMo

To a writer, National Novel Writing Month is like the olympics of literature. It gives those who have been holding out on their creative ideas to explode in a frenzy of words and storylines. The goal is to write 50,000 words (the length of an average novel) in one month’s time. NaNoWriMo has gained more momentum over the last few years and it has created a community around it that’s goal is to keep potential authors motivated. There are websites now dedicated to shelling out prompts, forums, and supportive quotes to those that wish to participate.

My Twitter is alight with Tweets from exhausted writers, boasting their day’s word count like athletes about their increased running distance.

I thought about NaNoWriMo this year.But then after a week of it, I thought the same thing I had thought last year, and then the year before that: nah.

I agree NaNoWriMo has many positive attributes:

1. Writers need goal, and NaNoWriMo gives them something to strive for (in this case a word count).

2. It creates a community of authors that can discuss and problem-solve together.

3. It helps authors get the first draft out of the way.

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My contention is that, at times, it can grow a bit competitive. Often in the writer’s quest to “win,” they forget the point of NaNoWriMo in the first place. It’s suppose to give writers an excuse to write instead of just letting ideas fester in their heads. It isn’t about brownie points or seeking self-validation from the approval of others.

I take umbrage with the designated word count that’s required to accomplish the goal of NaNoWriMo, as well. From my perspective, a story needs to be as long as it needs to be and only the author of the story is able to effectively determine how long the story should continue.

I realize that the goal isn’t necessarily to write a ready-for-publication novel in one month, but rather to complete a single draft in one month. Still, this might be too strenuous of an undertaking for most people to embark on in a single month. Most people have jobs, spouses, children, school, and other responsibilities to attend to. While this doesn’t mean a serious writer shouldn’t set aside time to write at least a little bit a day, some people may only have a few minutes to themselves on any given day.

I believe a more effective method would be for writers to create weekly or biweekly goals for themselves. Not necessarily measured in words, but in time devoted to the project. Even if you’re just sitting at the computer, staring at the same paragraph for hours, your brain is working on it.

It takes most writers months, even several years, to write their first novel. It doesn’t make them any less successful or productive. Some people just work at different paces.

I don’t mind if other people find NaNoWriMo useful or fun. If you enjoy doing it, then by all means participate. I won’t think any less of you. However, based on the reasons I’ve given above, it’s just not for me.