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on writing > Creating Conflict and Tension in Fiction

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message 1: by Frank (new)

Frank Fiore | 4 comments Though I am a novelist, I read very few novels. I watch tons of movies.


Because the basic elements of writing fiction are right there to be seen and used. And one of the most important elements is the use of conflict and tension. To quote Tina Morgan:

“Inserting conflict into your novel is not quite as simple as inserting a fist-fight into the storyline. Conflict in fiction can be as diverse and as individual as you are. It can also be used effectively to heightened tension and increase suspense.”

Analyze a movie – any movie. The best ones that hold your attention are those that know how to put conflict and tension into EVERY scene – even those used for exposition. You know — those boring scenes necessary to get information out.

That was a big challenge for me and my biggest criticism from editors who I used to help write my new novel CyberKill recently acquired by a traditional publisher. (Shameless promotion) So, instead of turning to “How to Write Fiction” books, I returned to studying the movies in my collection. I watched closely and realized that just about every scene had some kind of conflict between the characters or environment or some sort of tension between them. Even some internal tension inside the character him or herself.

Here are some tips from Stacy Verdick Case on how to add tension and conflict to your fiction.


message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul Nice blog, and always worth repeating, Frank.

message 3: by Frank (new)

Frank Fiore | 4 comments Thx Paul.

message 4: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments Maybe I'm from the old school, but if you want to write, and you want others to read your work, you have to read. Watching movies might work as a study in plotting and maybe even characters to a small degree, but it's not the whole enchilada, not by a longshot.

I wish I had a nickel for every time some wannabe novelist said, "I don't read books." I would never have to work again. And the work of the wannabes looking for an easy shortcut to writing the next Great American Novel shows they don't read.

I watch a lot of movies, but I read every night, like religion. In the back of my mind is the question: how did the writer suck me into the story (or not)? How are one writer's characters alive and breathing--3D--while others are flat two-dimensional beings you might see on the silver screen.

How does a writer learn pacing, literary pacing, or even how to moderate their own extremes, such as too much thought or not enough, too much action or not enough? There is such a thing as too much tension all the time--works great for a movie where you want the audience staying in their seats for two hours, but in books, not so well. You can't find any of it in movies--you have to read the books from whence those movies sprang.

Why is it that so many people see a movie and say the book was better? Because a movie is oftentimes, with a few notable exceptions, the Reader's Digest condensed version of the book. One exception to this was The Godfather--the movie was the book come to life. But this is so rare as to be noteworthy.

There's a huge difference in the work of those who read all the time, and those who don't. Take Stephen King for example--he watched every horror flick probably that came down the pike, but he read as well, and reads even now, 50-60 books a year. Why do you think he, as well as many other of the top writers in the world, counsel a would-be writer must read and write every day, like religion? Because the advice is tried and true, and it works, but it's no shortcut. To be a great writer takes work, lots of it, lots of reading--study--and writing--practice--plus a thick skin and a huge amount of perseverance.

There's no shortcuts in my book--not if you want to be a great writer versus merely mediocre. Now, if you want to write for the silver screen, that's a whole skill by itself, separate from writing novels, and I'm not talking about formatting either.


message 5: by Paul (new)

Paul I agree with both of you, M.L. and Frank. I write both books and screenplays (though yet to sell either format) but I can see some valuable cross-pollination across the two media.

Reading books and writing novels is to learn, as M.L. said, to gain knowledge of language usage, pacing, characterization.

Watching films and writing screenplays is to learn to develop your visual imagination. It infects novel writing, making it sparser and more visual. It teaches the art of cutting out anything that doesn't move the story forward. It teaches better plotting.

Go back to write a novel after a while on screenplays, and your work has improved. You are wasting even less time on exposition; you show more and tell less.

Go back to screenplays, and your choice of words to convey exactly the right nuance, has improved. You can now do with three words and a facial expression what took half a page before.

IMO anyway.

message 6: by Frank (new)

Frank Fiore | 4 comments I agree with Paul but Mari makes a good point too.

I think difference maybe in the stories one writes. I write thrillers and action adventures at this time. That's for the USA Today reader. People who are looking for a quick entertaining story.

Literature - which could be a dying breed - is something else. But that's only my opinion.


message 7: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments Paul makes a good point. Your writing improves the more you do it, no matter if you're bouncing between screenplays and novels or not. Writing always improves the more you do it, and the more you read, as well as write, the quicker it improves. What helps even more is critiquing the work of others. Nothing opens your eyes like noting flaws in others' work and then finding them in your own...

I write action adventure, thriller, suspense, paranormal. Hardly what one would call literary. I also write in scenes, each one ending in what I hope would be enough hook to keep the reader turning the pages. But I don't write in scenes because of movies--movies for me are great ways to examine plotting more than anything else--I write in scenes because that's my style of storytelling.

But I write every day and read every night--it's the only way now that I can get to sleep. I bet I have close to a thousand books in my personal collection, most of which I have read. I'm going to have to build a second story on my house soon because these books definitely need their own room. LOL

message 8: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 26 comments M.L. wrote: "Maybe I'm from the old school, but if you want to write, and you want others to read your work, you have to read. Watching movies might work as a study in plotting and maybe even characters to a sm..."

Complete agreement. I started writing with no lessons in writing, just a lot of experience reading the sort of books I wanted to write. I have a number of scenes in my books that are based on things I've seen in movies. Movies are good, since they are stories too, but when it comes to writing stories, the best lessons come from reading.

message 9: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Bushman | 144 comments Well, it's been said (forever it seems) that novelists should write the kind of books they want to read. And I'm in complete agreement with that. Stephen King's definitely writing the books he wants to read as are, I would suspect, most, if not all, of the top writers in the world. That's what I'm doing.

I'm quite sure I haven't borrowed too much from movies for scenes in my books, but then again, to this point in time, I've had such an interesting life that if I wrote my biography, no one would believe it was a true story. And I'm not even done yet, thank God. LOL

So, how does the aspiring novelist know the kind of books he or she wants to write without reading?

Reading is an essential element in learning to write--have you taken your vitamin R today? LOL

It's obvious I'm getting some of my daily dose of vitamin W--look at the length of this post...LOLOL


message 10: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Sievers | 6 comments Some very astute points made here, thanks to all for making them. Guess I'm in Mari's old school. Can't imagine a writer not being a reader. A voracious one, in fact. It's impossible to estimate the degree to which all I have read has made me the writer I am today, but I know that it's a great degree. And the complement to all that reading is daily writing. It's also nice, and sometimes helpful, to do a little living in there if possible, but it's by no means mandatory. Oh, and I do love watching movies; but as far as I'm concerned, that's a horse of a different color.

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