Friday, April 29, 2016

Successful Writing Secret: Conflict in Description

My newest title, Write Short to Succeed inspired by my class: Hows and Whys of Writing Short, click on the link above to sign up for the next one night class on May 3, 2016.

We authors are always learning and stretching our writing muscles. So when I attended a conference recently, I was surprised by how many new authors struggled with a particular concept:


Conflict needs to be in every part of an author's work. This includes description. Description? Yes, description. Ummm, I can hear new writers saying, isn't description just describing stuff? Nope. Or at least it's full of conflict if it's a success for the author.

Easiest way to explain this is to provide an example using a very well known cliche: 

It was a dark and stormy night.
Okay where is the conflict here? Well, in the fact that dark and stormy nights are difficult and dangerous. However, it's much better to not rely on such obvious elements to create the conflict. Instead, how about:

It was a warm, bright, sunny and horrid day.
The twist with "horrid" creates a conflict. It raises the question of why the day is horrid.

It was a warm, bright and sunny day. Despite the warmth, she couldn't stop shivering.
Can you spot the conflict? That "she can't stop shivering" is a contrast that raises questions?

Or how about:

It was a warm, bright and sunny day. She hated such days. Too pleasant by far.
Her emotional response creates conflict. And perhaps a touch of characterization.

Or a different type of description:

No conflict:
She was a pretty woman. Everyone always told her so.

She never knew how pretty she was. When people told her how lovely her face, she never believed them.
Again, her emotional response raises questions, why won't she believe how pretty she is? This creates conflict and some characterization.

Conflict raises questions, makes the reader wonder why there is this conflict and makes the reader wonder how the conflict will be resolved. Conflict keeps the reader reading!

An exercise:
Spot the descriptions in other author's writing. Read through them with an eye to whether or not they possess conflict. If not, why not? How could a description have more conflict? Or if it does have conflict, how?

Authors, questions? Answers? Are you conflicted?