Friday, December 28, 2012

Bridging Conflict

Karlův most  
     We need bridging conflict in our writing. Without it, our readers will get bored and watch a movie, or pull out a more interesting book.
     So, what is bridging conflict? It’s the smaller conflict that keeps the reader interested during transitions and setups. Much of a novel is setup for the good stuff. By “the good stuff,” I mean the climactic scenes of a novel, the big conflicts. These big conflicts can only have big impact if they are properly set up for the reader. Bridging conflict keeps readers interested in the scenes that set up these major conflicts.
     Conflict is basically code for “another problem our protagonist must solve.” It’s another obstacle. Let’s look at an example to identify the big conflicts in a story, first. Then we’ll be able to see where and why we need bridging conflict. The Hunger Games isn’t a very original example, but the story is a beautiful example of layering conflict.
      Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister. This is big conflict because she’ll most likely die in the arena. But when is the next major climactic scene? When Peeta announces his love for her. And the next? When she begins the games. These are big moments in the story, but there’s a lot of setup that goes in-between these moments. Katniss must endure the capitol’s primping; she must meet her enemies; and we must begin to care about her. In order to get through all this setup, we need bridging conflict.
     So basically, bridging conflicts are smaller conflicts in between the bigger conflicts. They connect the main events…like bridges. They keep readers interested during the transitions. “Bridging Conflict” isn’t just a fancy term—it makes sense.
     Let’s look at an example of bridging conflict from The Hunger Games. When Katniss is running around in the arena, the bloodthirsty Gamemakers burn her leg with a fire ball. This is not a major plot point in the overall picture of the story, but it fills in a lull between major conflicts.
     This example also shows some other desirable characteristics for bridging conflicts. First of all, they must be interesting to the reader. Before to the fireball incident, Katniss was just figuring out how to survive in the wild. The incident forces her to run for her life and she is hurt badly. Then she runs right into the Career killers in the arena (not an accident, as we’ll see below). Life and death stakes grab reader attention—we worry for Katniss.
     Our second desirable characteristic for bridging conflict is that it shows us information. It shows us what the Gamemakers are like—they want to create action for the viewers in the Capitol. It’s their job. The Gamemakers are trying to hurt Katniss badly enough that the Career killers can murder her. The Gamemakers don't want to kill her outright, though, because they want the audience engaged in Katniss's struggle (sick, I know). It also tells us about the viewers in the Capitol, who think it’s all an entertaining game. It shows us how scary this is for Katniss. We realize she must feel like a pawn in their control.
     The third characteristic is that it seems natural. It arises organically from the events of the story all around Katniss, so it doesn't feel manufactured by the author. The Capital and Gamemakers are bloodthirsty, and this is a game of life and death. It makes sense in the context.
     How do we use Bridging Conflict? We create a believable conflict that primes the reader for the bigger, main actions in the story. It may be small thing—an injury, a fight with a friend, a temporary magical shortage, etc., but it will prepare the readers for a major plot point—a friend's betrayal, a death, the loss of a valuable artifact, etc. If your protagonist runs away from home in chapter 3, show a fight in chapter 1 that serves as an impetus for the act of running away. It's a smooth integration of conflict in to your setup chapters. The first few chapters of a novel will often need bridging conflict. As literary agent and author Mary Kole says, “A small conflict right off the bat will get us mildly invested and should carry us for a few pages" (159). If you’ve got a juicy bit of conflict on page 28 that kicks off all the action, that’s good news. You can use Bridging Conflict can carry your readers through whatever setup must come before that point. 
     This is a relatively new concept for me, but now that I understand it, it’s helping me a lot in my own writing. I hope it helps you, too!
     Thanks to Donald Maass for first introducing this topic in Writing the Breakout Novel and thanks to Mary Kole for reminding me of it in her Writing Irresistible Kidlit.
Photo Credit:
By Chosovi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Works Cited
-Kole, Mary. Writing Irresistible Kidlit. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 2012. Print.
-Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. 2001. Print.
-The Hunger Games. Dir. Gary Ross. Perf. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz. Lionsgate, 2012. BluerayDisc.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Writing Goals and Library Events

CargoNet Di 12 Euro 4000 Lønsdal - Bolna     The new year is coming! Let's celebrate. Here's a great post for writers on creating resolutions, and here's a great post on keeping those resolutions. I'm working on my list, although it's really more of a list of deadlines. I'm going to post my two big ones here to motivate me to finish!
  • July 2012, finish solo revisions and editing on Silent Raven so I can toss the manuscript around a critique group. (Also, I'm hoping to find a Beta Reader by then. I'm not yet sure how to go about doing that.)
  • Completely finish and send Silent Raven (my work-in-progress) out on its first round of submissions by Jan. 1, 2014, so I can begin my next project.
     I have been officially working on SR since October 2011 and am ready to finish. Do you have any writing goals? If you post them here, we can keep each other accountable. I'm in need of an accountability buddy.
     In other news, the Lakeport library will be holding an exercise class on Friday, Jan. 12th. A certified instructor will be giving a "Joint Check Warm-Up and Cool-Down" for the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program. This free class will be for men and women and will run from 2-3PM. Wear loose-fitting, comfy clothing if you go. (Lucky me, I haven't got arthritis!)
     And speaking of library events, the candy-making class was great. The instructor, Amy Patton, taught us several easy microwave recipes. Fudge, butterscotch and caramel candies, chocolate and non-chocolate recipes galore. Oh, how I love the library.

Photo Attribution:
By Kabelleger / David Gubler ( (Own work : [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, December 15, 2012

After the End (of NaNoWriMo)

You're right, this isn't wheat bread.
     Sorry for missing yesterday's post, everyone. Finals, ya know? Now, on to the good stuff.
     Congrats to all you NaNoers out there! Even if you didn't finish the 50,000 words, any words are better than no words.
     Every time you write a first draft, you are getting practice at that part of the writing process--that's the fun, inspiring "follow your imagination" part of writing.
     If you ever want to see your work published and enjoyed, however, you also need to practice finishing a novel. NaNo gives some good resources to start you on your journey, but you'll need more than PB&J sandwiches and chocolate kisses to make it. You'll need egg salad sandwiches on wheat bread and spinach for dessert. I've covered the five stages of the writing process in a previous post, so I won't go into that much in this post. Today I'm just going to mentally prepare you for the road ahead, post-NaNo.
     After NaNo you'll have a first draft to work with. You may suspect that it is pure drivel or you may be very fond of it. Let me encourage you if you're feeling down: first drafts are all monstrous. But no matter how you are feeling about that manuscript, it's time to move beyond that first phase of writing. We have to get to and through that middle, slogging stage. Then we'll journey through the "finishing touches" stage.* Finally, we get to send it out to agents or publishers. Or, if you are self-publishing, this is where you format and pay for your copies and begin marketing like a crazy person.
     But we're getting ahead of ourselves. It's good to take a month long break from your NaNo  manuscripts before starting on the gigantic "middle phase." **
     I'm still developing my own writing process, but it's starting to kind of look like this:
  First Draft                                                Revisions                                                           


     That big, long second stage that lives on into the wild blue yonder is called "Revision." It does end...eventually ;) I've posted about revisions before, but this is the perfect time to think about it again. It's a completely different mindset, a new type of writing. You'll probably love some parts and hate others...But every manuscript needs revision.
     The end of NaNo begins the next stage of writing. The middle. Embark with me!
     You Can Make It!
     When you're stuck in the middle of the revisiony swamp, maybe dealing with writer's block, keep chugging along, my friend. It will end. Try this: Imagine eventually ending your own story. Imagine the pristine state it will be in. That's so good! It's what I write for. But the only way to finish that story and get that feelingis to muck through the middle and find your way.
How to Get Started
     There are tons of great books and blog posts out there on revision, so I won't go on about this too long. (I linked some great blog posts from published authors on revision to my "Five Stages of Writing" post.) To get started, I recommend these steps: 1.) Print out your work. 2.) Read it through, preferably in one sitting. 3.) Make a list of things you want to fix. It's like a to-do list. "Make Carlton a more realistic character." "Add some conflict to such and such a scene." "Tie the ending more to the beginning." Start off with the big stuff, like plot. Editing words and syntax will come later. 4.) Don't get overwhelmed by thinking of all the things you must fix. Take it one task at a time. 5.) Finish your list. 6.) Give it a few weeks, and read it all over again to make sure you've finished the big stuff. Meanwhile, you can begin editing the small stuff--grammar, voice, etc.
Working to Find What Works For You
     You can get help, but you can't immediately accept someone's advice and expect to know everything about revision. You have to get through it yourself before you can start figuring out how you did it and how to do it better next time. It takes practice to hone your process. Years of it.
And It's Oh, So Rewarding.
     I think Revision is the most rewarding process for a writer. After a long, hard day of revision, I always feel like "Hah, yeah, I'm a real writer." Don't skip it, scribblers. Jump right in write for those wonderful moments when you see things clicking together.

* This post is not about the last phase, but I thought I'd throw this in anyway. The "Ending" stage isn't too hard to practice, even if you've never written and revised a story to practice on. You can just go to any workshop class or online writing group and practice ending, which is also known as editing. Critiquing other peoples' work and getting your own work critiqued is a wonderful and necessary part of growth. I do this on a site called "Critique Circle," which taught me tremendous amounts about the process.

**A note about taking a month long break: Many experts recommend this and I have tried it myself. It works best if you already have a plot in place. If you have not finished your planned plotline, or you aren't sure that your character has followed any sort of sensible journey, I recommend holding off on the month long break because it will take your head out of the game while you still need it to be immersed in planning the plot. I've learned this from experience. If, however, you have finished your plot line, then break away! :) It's good to take a break and get some perspective on what you've written, once you've finished the story. Perspective will help you see the weak points of your rough draft. (And trust me, all rough drafts have weak points.)
Photo Credit:
jill, jellidonut... whatever. "best egg salad sandwich ever, flying star, Albuquerque NM, 12/7/2007." Wikipedia Commons. Originally published on Flickr. 7 December 2007. 13 December 2012. 13 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Gifts @ the Library

     Do you need gifts for book or candy lovers? Good news: the library can help. The first option is for those who want to make their gift for family or friends.
     "As part of Lakeport Library’s December theme, 'Gifts from the Kitchen' the library will present a 'Microwave Candy Class'" on Dec. 15 at 2:00 p.m. The library is located at 1425 N. High Street. "Amy Patton will demonstrate how to make rocky road, fudge, toffee, caramels, peanut brittle and other types of candy in the microwave. The class is free and no library card is required to attend. Patton’s volunteer tasters have tested and approved these recipes. For more information contact Patton at 263-8817 ext 17105" (Cook); or you could email Amy at Amy.Patton (at) LakeCountyCA (dot) gov. Children are welcomed.
     I got to taste that candy. Mmmm! Doesn't that class sound awesome? I made favors for a Christmas party using Amy's fudge ideas. Worked great!
     If candy is not your loved one's favorite giftie, the library offers another way to help.
     The Friends of Library is selling gift bags of books at the Lakeport branch. They're perfect gifts for friends and family members who enjoy reading in genres like mysteries, fiction, historical novels, romance, health, and animal nature books. You can design the gift bags to their specific tastes. The Friends will gift wrapped a book bag with clear cellophane, and nicely decorate it. The gift bags are $25.00, and the Friends need a week to complete your order. They've set up some samples at the library which, unfortunately, I didn't think to snap pictures of. Dur.
     The other cool thing about this gift idea is that you are also supporting the library. Double-Yes! Get a beautified armload of books for your loved one AND support the library.

Works Cited & Photo Credit
Bennet, Jo. "Lake County Friends of the Library Press Release." 4 Dec. 2012. Email.
Blairsnow. "Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper example." Wikimedia Commons. June 2011. 7 Dec. 2012. Online Photo.
Cook, Jan. "Lake County Library Press Release." 1 Dec. 2012. Email.