Monday, October 11, 2021

Story Need More Conflict? Look to Your Setting - Angela Ackerman


Every writer’s mission is to pen a story that draws readers in, offering familiarity when it comes to certain genre expectations while also delivering something fresh so to be distinctive and memorable. This is how to cultivate a loyal--and, fingers crossed, rabidly obsessed--reading audience.


But heck, there’s a lot of stories out there. And didn’t someone say there’s only so many plot forms to choose from? Is “fresh” even possible?




When you know where to look, you can find a kaleidoscope of unique ideas and apply them to any type of story to transform it.


A Story’s Secret Weapon: Conflict


One of the easiest ways to offers that thrill of “newness” for readers is to activate the power of conflict. In fiction, it is the crucible that tests, bruises, and shapes our characters. Externally, it pushes the plot onward by supplying the resistance needed to force characters to scrutinize their world, make choices, and take action to get what they want. Internally, conflict generates a tug-of-war between the character’s fears, beliefs, needs, values, and desires. Ultimately, it forces them to choose between an old, antiquated way of thinking and doing, or a new, evolved way of being, because only one will help them get what they want.


Conflict touches everything: plot, characters, arc, pacing, tension and more, and can be endlessly adapted to generate fresh scenes, and scenarios that provide readers with something special to experience.


Conflict Is Everywhere

The other beautiful thing about conflict is how you can find it anywhere: the character’s career, relationships, duties, etc., or it can come from adversaries, nature, the supernatural, or even from within themselves. And that’s just to start.


But no matter where your character is and what is happening, there’s one eternal source for conflict that can always lead you to a complication, obstacle, or blocker to clash with your character’s goals: the setting. 


The location of each scene will contain inherent dangers and risks, meaning you can mine those to create problems and remind the character of the cost of failure. Drawing conflict from your setting also gives it a greater role in the story. Rather than be a “stage” for action to unfold, your setting becomes a participant.


Here are some things to keep in mind to draw the very best conflict from your setting, making important story moments more intense, and offering that fresh gauntlet of challenges for your character to navigate.


Choose Settings Thoughtfully

Some setting choices are obvious. If you need your character’s car to break down in an isolated area, then a country road, campsite, or quarry might do the trick. But conflict very often happens in an ordinary setting, like a retail store or at home. In cases like these, when the story has dictated where events will occur, up the ante by choosing a specific location that holds emotional value for your character. Instead of choosing just any store, pick one with an emotional association—such as the place the character was caught shoplifting as a teenager. Good or bad, any setting that plays upon their emotional volatility will increase their chances of saying or doing something they’ll regret.


And while we’re talking about emotional value, don’t underestimate the symbolic weight of the objects within the scene. The backyard may be a generic place to have a difficult conversation but put the characters next to the treehouse their son used to play in before he got critically sick, and you’ve already heightened their emotions, potentially adding additional conflict to the scene.


It’s also important to think about which settings contain infrastructure that will make the character’s goal harder to reach. Maybe it’s a ravine the protagonist will need to cross, a locked door to get through, or a security guard to evade. Remember that the character's journey to achieve their goal shouldn't be a walk in the park. Conflict is necessary in every scene, so choose settings that contain obstacles or provide poignant emotional roadblocks.


Think about how conflict naturally evolves. The character has an objective. They put together a plan and start pursuing that goal. Then complications come along and make things interesting. Luckily, there are lots of ways we can manipulate the setting to create additional conflict scenarios.


Mess with the Weather. Unexpected showers, a heat wave, an icy driveway, the threat of a tornado—how can small and large weather considerations create problems for your character?


Take Away Transportation. No matter what setting you choose, your character will need to move from one place to another. What kind of transportation disruptions will make it harder for them to get where they need to go?


Add an Audience. Falling down in private is totally different than doing it in a crowd of people. Both may be physically painful, but the latter adds an element of emotional hardship. Who could you put in the environment as a witness to the character's missteps or misfortune?


Trigger Sensitive Emotions. Conflict is easier to handle for an even-keeled, emotionally cool character. So use the setting to throw them off balance. If they're struggling to put food on the table, place them in a locale where wealthy characters are eating lavishly and throwing away leftovers. Likewise, a character with daddy issues can be triggered in an environment that highlights healthy and loving father-daughter relationships. So when you’re planning the setting for a scene, ask yourself: What could I add specifically for my character in this situation that will elevate their emotions?  


Exploit What They Don’t Have. If your character doesn’t have a light source, place them in a dark place, like a cave or deserted subway tunnel. No weapon? Surround them with physical threats. If they're lacking something vital, capitalize on that.


Make Them Uncomfortable. Vulnerability sets the character on edge and elevates their emotional state. So whenever you can, put the character in a location where they have no experience, don’t know the rules, or aren't really suited to navigate it. This can work for small- or large-scale settings, from a character who has to traverse an alien planet to someone who's averse to kids having to host a child's party.


Use Symbolism. Nothing impedes progress like fear and self-doubt. Think about which symbols can be added to the environment to remind the character of an area of weakness, a past failure, a debilitating fear, or an unresolved wound.


Add a Ticking Clock. One sure-fire way to up the ante is to give the character a deadline. Instead of them having unlimited time to complete the goal, make them dependent upon elements within their environment, such as having to avoid rush-hour traffic, reach the bank by four p.m., or get home before sunset.


Setting-related conflict is fantastic in that it can be endlessly adapted, helping you keep the tension going in every scene no matter where your character is.


Want More Ideas on How to Unleash the Power of Conflict?


The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles
(Volume 1). It’s packed with ideas on how to apply meaningful conflict to reveal your character, challenge them, and keep the story tense and on track. It also digs into a plethora of conflict scenarios to help you plot fresh scenes.

Angela Ackerman
is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Her bestselling writing guides are available in eight languages, and are sourced by universities, recommended by agents and editors, and used by writers around the world. She’s also one half of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, and co-founder of One Stop for Writers, a creativity portal loaded with one-of-a-kind tools, resources, and a Storyteller’s Roadmap that makes planning, writing, and revising a novel almost criminally easy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Welcome, First Wednesday in Fall!

Before we get into the post, the Admins here at IWSG want to recognize two amazing and hard-working Admins for their contribution to the group. Heather Gardner and Tyrean Martinson are unfortunately stepping down from their spots. While we hate to see them go, we understand how there is only just so much time and these are two very busy authors. We will miss them so much, but wish them the best of luck.

  Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

October 6 question - In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are

 Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard!

I like this question, and I'm answering it on my own blog as well as here, but I'm taking a slightly different slant in the two post. 


When I write a story, I often tackle hard topics, ones that are controversial and not necessarily pleasant. However, that doesn't mean that I resort to language bombs, x-rated or violent scenes to tell the story. Shakespeare and Hitchcock had the right idea, take the violence off the center stage, allow the imagination to fill in those spaces because in all likelihood, those imaginations will conjure up more vivid images than anything you "show" explicitly.  

Another of my "avoid if at all possible" language techniques is what is called re-spelling. In other words, writing dialogue so that it's spelled to imitate the way a character talks. 

Character or Caricature?
Image credit: Hitchster on Wunderstock (license)

There are a couple of reasons I don't like re-spelling.  First, I find the use of this technique demeaning when it's used to characterize a social class or ethnic group. Perhaps the most extreme example is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The author set out with the intention of exposing the evils of slavery, and that was admirable. However, her heavy use of re-spelling (and this is my modern-day opinion only) seems to have turned many of her characters into caricatures.  Here's one example:

"Mose done, Mas'r George," said Aunt Chloe, lifting the lid and peeping in, —"browning beautiful—a real lovely brown. Ah! let me alone for dat. Missis let Sally try to make some cake, t' other day, jes to larn her, she said. 'O, go way, Missis,' said I; 'it really hurts my feelin's, now, to see good vittles spilt dat ar way! Cake ris all to one side—no shape at all; no more than my shoe; go way!"

I recently finished a book set in Portugal and the author did a masterful job of capturing the second-language sound of a Portuguese speaker using English. She didn't re-spell, she changed the syntax and achieved the effect.

"What kind of Port you want? You are in the land of great Port. We invent it, you know." 


"Ah, Senhor Costa at your service. I am pleased to advise such pretty lady...You are inglesa? English?"

Another reason for my bias against re-spelling is that it makes it darned hard to read. I hate to pick on Mrs. Stowe, but she's the most extreme example, and it's easy to demonstrate with her since Uncle Tom's Cabin is so dense with re-spelling.

"La bless you, Mas'r George!" said Aunt Chloe, with earnestness, catching his arm, "you wouldn't be for cuttin' it wid dat ar great heavy knife! Smash all down—spile all de pretty rise of it. Here, I've got a thin old knife, I keeps sharp a purpose. Dar now, see! comes apart light as a feather! Now eat away— you won't get anything to beat dat ar." 

I'm not completely re-spelling free in my writing. I jumped into the WEP with a short story called The Lynching and wanted a "back-woods" twang for my characters, so I did use gotta and should'a and maybe a couple of 'em for them. The rest of that twang I tried to get with vocabulary and idiom that I thought characterized these people.

“Gotta take a leak Bart. You hang onto the rope.

Duchane’s bladder’s about the size of a grape. I take the rope, but that means if the bugger comes while Duchane’s playing bear in the woods, I’ll have to change up the plan. I should’a called on Newt for this job. He might be seventy, but he’d pee his pants before he’d sabotage a planned attack like this one.

I'm looking forward to reading other answers to this question. Hope you'll join me to see what other members have to say.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Introducing Medium #IWSG

You may have noticed this new logo in our sidebar. We're pleased to now be connected with Medium, a publishing platform that will allow our members to write, read, and connect with each other by using #IWSG when they post a story or an article. 

Every day, writers share their words on this platform, which has an audience of more than 170 million monthly viewers. 
We would love to invite you to publish the stories you're proud of.  

How to Publish

1) Join the Medium Partner Program (it’s free!). How it works: Any time you publish a story on Medium, you can choose to earn money by making it part of our member-only content. Or you can keep your story free and accessible to anyone. The choice is yours. 

2) Review your author profile to make sure it looks stellar. You’ll want to optimize your bio, too.   

3) Craft your story. Here’s how to write a story on Medium. (You can also check out this video walkthrough of all of the features in the Medium editor.) Be sure to visit Creators Hub, Medium’s official blog for writers, which features tips and writing advice.

4) Add the tag “IWSG” to your story so your work can be discovered by fellow IWSG writers on Medium.  5) Hit “Publish.” If you’d like your story to be eligible to earn money, make sure to check the “meter my story” box.

6) Connect with your readers, build your audience, and track your earnings in your Partner Program dashboard

Thanks to Juneta Key for some of her first-hand experience with Medium for the following tips about how to format your publication.

Formatting Tips for Medium

  • Use the big T for formatting your Title. Highlight text formatting bar will appear.
  • Your subtitle under your main title should be a sentence with a period. Use the little t in the formatting bar.
  • Use the big T in the Medium formatting bar to format subheading in the body of the post.
  • Use white space for easy reading. Two to three-line paragraphs are suggested because dense paragraphs are hard to read and readers will skim them. They will totally skip harder-to-read posts. Remember most people are reading on phones.
  • Medium likes the title to state what the post is about. In other words, by reading the title the reader should know exactly what type of information is in the post. This gives you a better chance of being picked for distribution by Medium. If you are part of the Medium Partnership Program which pays for read time this will matter to you.
  • All images should be cited. Unsplash is integrated with Medium, and will have the citation there already. When you click in the body of the post there will be a plus sign to the left. It gives you options to upload images from the computer, to search Unsplash, and use other formatting options. If you bring in images from outside the Medium platform, cite the image, even if the image was taken by you, the author.

Medium's Distribution Standards

  • You can use links with a call to action ( CTA), but try not to make it obvious or too much like a sales pitch. For instance, "Follow me" or "Learn more" are appropriate. Be sure to hyperlink your CTA's.
  • You can put a brief bio at the end of the post and use the separator command to set it off. A bio should be simple and not more than 2 or 4 lines at most. You can put a link in your upper bio, but you are limited by characters.
  • You can use linktree which creates one link, but allows you to link to all of your social media if you wish.

Medium basic rules and Medium Help Center.

Titles and Subtitle on Medium Post by Medium Medium Rules

Juneta Key already has two publilcations on Medium: Writers Gambit and The Art of Short Fiction