Writing Tips & Tools

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lesson 22: Bridging Conflict

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Bridging Conflict.

Did you ever arrive early for a party? It's awkward, isn't it? The music isn't playing. The host and hostess aren't ready. You offer help, but there's nothing you can do....except feel awkward.

That's how some manuscripts are. Pieces of the story are being assembled, but nothing is happening yet, and the protagonist hasn't arrived. I fact nobody you like has shown up and your wondering why you accepted the invitation.

Bridging conflict is a story element that takes care of that. It is the temporary conflict or mini-problem or interim worry that makes opening material matter. There are many ways to create it. Even anticipation of changes is a kind of conflict that can make us lean forward and wonder, What is going to happen?

How do you bridge from your opening page to your novel's main events? Do you just get us there, filling space with arrival, setup, and backstory? Or do you use the preliminary pages of your manuscript to build tension of a different sort?

Step 1: Does your novel include a prologue that does not include your protagonist, or one or more opening chapters in which your hero does not appear. Move your hero's first scene to page one.

Step 2: Once your protagonist arrives on stage what business do you feel must be included before the first big change, conflict, problem, or plot development arrives?

Step 3: What is the bridging conflict that carries us through those opening steps to the first big change, conflict, problem, or plot development?

Step 4: Open your manuscript to page one. How can you make that bridging conflict stronger at this point?

Step 5: turn to page two. Repeat the previous step. Continue until you reach the first big change, conflict, problem, or plot development.

Note: The number one reason for rejection..no conflict, especially in the opening pages.

Follow-up: Find four places in your novel, ones that fall between plot development or scenes, in which the problem does not immediately arrive.

Conclusion: To maintain high tension it isn't necessary to keep your novel's central conflict squarely front and center. Bridging conflict adds contrast and variety, and makes even peripheral action matter. It is what keeps your readers' eyes glued always to the page, even when your main plot is taking a break!

1 Comment:

  1. Raven Clark said...
    This was well written and enjoyable, Bonnie. Excellent job explaining, and very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    I own both Breakout, and the workbook and have promoted both on my own writing blogs. They really are great!


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