Scene conflicts vs. Story conflicts


Written on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 by haleigh

There are a myriad of different conflicts going on in a story at any given time. Most of my thinking is about core conflicts, or those conflicts that sustain your entire plot. He's a chef, she's a restaurant critics. Conflict in a romance plot. He's a cop, the villian is a serial killer determined to toy with the cop. Conflict in a thriller. These big conflicts are based on your characters goals and needs.

But as I was reading Jenny Crusie's blog this weekend, I was reminded of the importance of scene conflicts as well.

At a smaller level, each scene should portray a conflict. This is what creates pace and tension. In every scene, a character has a goal, and they either achieve that goal or are somehow obstructed.

Take thrillers for example. The DaVinci Code, despite its flaws, has phenomonal pacing. It's a book you can't set down. In every scene, something is at stake. The character has a goal, and in almost every scene, that goal was obstructed. Which (and here's where pacing happens) left the reader wondering how they would ever acheive that goal.

On Jenny's blog (an amazing resource, by the way), she broke down a scene into its base conflict to see where she'd gone wrong. This is a great exercise during revisions, when you know something is off with a scene.

1. Who is the protagonist? Not of the novel, but of this particular scene. Who has something at stake? Who's POV are we in? (hint: the person with the most at stake should usually be your POV character for the scene)

2. What is their goal? What do they want to achieve? This often isn't going to be a huge goal. Sometimes it's a simple as they want to order take out for dinner. Sometimes they want to prove something to another character. But there has to be something at stake. Some reason for the scene.

3. Who is their antagonist? Again, it may not be the same antagonist for the novel. But someone is blocking their goal. A scene where a character is hungry and so orders take out for dinner isn't all that interesting. Who is standing in the way of your POV character achieving their goal? 

3. Do they achieve their goal? What is going to raise tension? What is going to make the reader flip the next page?

Check out Jenny's blog post for a wonderful break down of exactly how she used this to completely revise a scene.

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  1. Jessica |

    I love this post! Thanks for the breakdown. I've been thinking about this too, for my wip. Trying to keep things straight and full of tension. LOL

  2. cameron |

    Glad it helped!


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