Novel Boot Camp Lecture 4: Creating Conflict

I’m so excited to share my notes and homework for Ellen Brock’s Novel Boot Camp Lecture 4: Creating Conflict. It was such a fantastic lecture!


As a reader, conflict is usually easy to identify in a story and often times following the main charcter’s struggles is what compels us to continue reading. I’m an avid reader, so when I decided to be a writer, I figured if I had a good conflict, readers would be interested in my story.

The problem with this thinking is that although it is true that a strong conflict can draw readers in, the readers also have to have a connection with the main character and this connection is what compels the reader to follow the character’s struggles. Knowing the conflict in your story isn’t enough. A fully developed conflict will make a story more compelling and dynamic.

Ellen does a fantastic job of clarifying what conflict is in a story:

Note that conflict has two parts:

1. What the character wants. 
2. What stands in the character’s way.

If a scenario has both pieces, then a conflict is present. But surprisingly often, writers leave out one of these two crucial pieces. Today I want to explain why this happens and how you can fix it.

I love how Ellen breaks down conflict in two parts because it appeals to my need for structured creativity. (I’ll address this point later.) I’ve always defined that conflict was a struggle the main character goes through, but relating what the character wants brings so much more depth to the struggle. When a conflict is missing one of the two things mentioned above, it’s a just a “bad thing” (as Ellen refers to in her lecture). A bad thing is something that might be awful, but without the event linked to the character’s wants or an obstacle, it doesn’t add to the tension or character’s struggles.

Already at this point in the lecture, I wondered if my character had a conflict or just bad things happening to her! (More on this later.)

Another part of the lecture that I found helpful was how the conflict relates to the character’s goals. This is another point that appeals to my need for structured creativity. (More on this later.) Ellen breaks down a character’s goal into three parts: 1) The Story Goal 2) Stepping Stones 3) The Character’s Desire to Avoid Their “Sore Spot”.

It’s later! Or Structured Creativity

I like to take notes and after I take notes, I like to do an output activity. (It’s a teacher thing.) My output activities will be a visual representation of Ellen’s lecture. Much like the pyramid I did for Lecture 2.

My notes for Lecture 4. The bracketed part is my output activity.

My notes for Lecture 4. The bracketed part is my output activity.

I’m going to continue doing output activities. After taking my notes, I felt like I had a wealth of information, but I needed a way to synthesize and organize it to better understand it. I’m a visual person, so I used a technique I used to have my students do. (I can’t say what it is because it is trademarked property, so I’ll refer to it as the bracketed part.)  Everything–conflict and goals–not only  became organized, but also became cohesive. I could see how conflict and goals related and depended on each other.

I was so excited after taking notes. I was ready to apply all this new found knowledge to my story. BUT, how? I don’t know if you can tell, but I love learning. I also thrive with structured creativity. How did I go from wonderful notetaking to application?

By Making Charts! 

My Creating Conflicts Charts. There are three for each of the goals: Story Goal, Stepping Stones, and Sore Spots. The bottom of the charts are the same: Conflict.

My Creating Conflicts Charts. There are three for each of the goals: Story Goal, Stepping Stones, and Sore Spots. The bottom of the charts are the same: Conflict.

I know! It’s awesome. I’m still in the planning stages of my novel, so I knew I needed more space than my little story notebook could handle. If I could, I’d use butcher paper, but this is good for now. I also wanted to be able to move around ideas if necessary, so I used post-it notes to jot down details and stuck them under the places where I thought they’d fit.

So, with my Tier of Depth from Lecture 2, I jotted down the character’s goals and motivation on post-it notes.

My Creating Conflicts homework session.

My Creating Conflicts homework session.

I still have a lot more development to do, but I think I’m off to a good start. I’d like to see from Lecture 2 how The Deep Dark Secret and The Origin of the Deep Dark Secret can fit in the Creating Conflict Charts. Another neat feature about movable details was that when I wrote down the details for the The Story Goals (in orange post-its) from the Tier of Depth Goals (from Lecture 2), I realized that some of the goals were actually part of the character’s wants and moved them down under the Conflict section of the chart. The other realization that I had was that I don’t have enough obstacles. I hate to say that all I have happening are “bad things” because the details of the conflicts are all rooted in the character’s wants, but only one obstacle anchors all of the conflicts and I realized I needed further development in those areas. I think I may have to play the “Maybe Game” .

If you’d like to check out Lecture 4: Creating Conflict, go here.


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