Fuel for the fire

We’ve all been there. The dead zone. There comes a point in some manuscripts where we can’t summon another word. The bloom is off the rose. The honeymoon is over. That hot idea waiting in the wings starts to call to us with an opening chapter we’re itching to get on paper.

With National Novel Writing Month http://www.nanowrimo.org/ deep underway, I thought it might be a good time to share what works for me when it comes to overcoming this real life black moment (which often happens way before the fictional black moment we’re aiming for!)


Add some

There, that was easy enough, wasn’t it?  But what sounds easy isn’t always simple to execute.

My advice?

Think of your problem as needing fuel for your fire.

You might begin with a story idea that pairs an environmentalist with a logger.  Meh.  Sure, there’s conflict, but it’s shallow.  That conflict is an ember not a conflagration.  You’ll be lucky to get fifty pages before it fizzles out.  Watch the movie Avatar if you want to see how this simple spark of an idea was turned into conflict-a-licious.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Don’t shy away from a gasoline and nitroglycerin cocktail.

When James Cameron added a handicapped soldier longing to be useful again to the already burning conflict of a woman and her people trying to save their home, their history and their way of life…the fire of that story burst into life.  But he didn’t stop there.  He put the soldier in an untenable position where he would have to act dishonorably in order to regain his honor.  He put the woman in a position of loving a traitor in order to save her people. What they feared the most was what they had to do to survive and attain their HEA.  *That’s* conflict and if you’re confused about conflict, Avatar is one of the best illustrations of it I’ve ever seen.

The kind of deep and fiery conflict that’s tied to the romantic resolution of your story is the kind that will carry you over or barrel you through any stumbling blocks that come your way.  Better yet, it will burn those blocks to the ground ’til they’re nothing but the dust you shake off your sandals as you race on by.

Don’t be afraid to throw your characters into the flames.

If you’ve already developed this type of conflict before you even type Once Upon a Time, then you’re probably working on one of those marvelous stories that write themselves.  But there are times when even the most experienced writer has to stop and figure out why a story is sputtering.

It’s always the conflict.

Yeah, I said it, always.

Don’t convince yourself that your story has stalled because there’s laundry to be done or the phone rang or you need some fresh air or…or….or

Chances are you need to light a match and hold it to your characters’ feet…use it to illuminate their souls…force your characters to hell and back again…and then all you have to do from there is transcribe the burn.

7 Responses to “Fuel for the fire”
  1. Thank you for a very helpful post! I always need to be reminded about conflict.

  2. I always do as well, Barbara. I think of myself as a situational writer. Almost every story I’ve ever written begins with a scene. I’ve learned to write that scene and then stop myself to be sure that the characters I’ve used for the scene can burn up the following pages. I usually end up adding additional layers of conflict before the scene, and the rest of the story, is good to go:)

  3. I usually start with a scene, too. For the past week or two, I’ve been messing around with Goal/Motivation/Conflict boxes to try to set up the rest of the story before I start wandering and getting bogged down miles from where I wanted to be! But I’m still finding it difficult to drum up enough conflict without making the story too complicated. Argh.

  4. Sometimes cutting to the heart of your deepest conflict can simplify instead of complicate. It’s not about throwing everything but the kitchen sink at your characters. It’s about finding that *one* thing they care the most about or they’re the most afraid of. The flame not the spark.

    I think of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. Such a simple story. A comb. A watch. Mutual sacrifice. Makes me ache every time I read it because as simple as it is it cuts to the heart of what true love is all about.

    In Wilderness, Tess has been in hiding for years. Staying hidden equals safety to her. Cutting the chains of a werewolf and entering his wild world represents her greatest fear. Colin is her conflict. He represents the supernatural abilities that she has always repressed. To embrace him means embracing that which she’s most afraid of… exposure and her own abilities. It’s probably the most simple story I’ve ever written, but it’s powerful and poignant because the conflict isn’t shallow. It burns bone marrow deep.

    What does your heroine fear? Okay. Now, make that your hero. And vice versa. In HUNGER, Holly is most afraid of being the monster she sees in Jarvis’ eyes. Jarvis is most afraid of losing his edge and feeling after years of being a killing machine. It isn’t as simple as vampire paired with vampire hunter. But it is visceral and uncomplicated. And I created them for each other. Because the story would burn and because, ultimately, they’re perfect for each other.

    And there’s the trick. You’re creating characters who represent not only the greatest challenge but also the greatest reward for each other:)

    As soon as they walk through the fire to get there!

  5. Wow! You express it so well. Thanks!

  6. You’re welcome:) Writing it down helps to remind myself!

  7. I loved Avatar. They did a great job with the movie.

    This was a great post. You’re right about the conflict, it moves the writing forward. Something starting to bogged down, add a little conflict, and ta-da the writing is revitalized.

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