Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Focusing your Conflict

Welcome back to Notes from New York. Today, we’re talking about focus. When you write a novel, some elements take the spotlight over others. This is necessary. You can’t give equal attention to every element of your novel. Some things are meant to take center stage while others skirt around in the background.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your story is focusing too much on the wrong thing. Every story as multiple conflicts and sometimes, the story devotes far too much attention to the wrong conflict. For instance, perhaps there is a post-apocalyptic event or war. Because of the magnitude of this crisis, one would expect it to take the spotlight. But sometimes, funny enough, a book pours its focus into a comparatively smaller plot, like a romance. I mean sure, I get it, romance is important to a lot of novels but if you’re focusing on conflict between your main couple while bombs are going off in the background...there might be a problem.

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Hunger Games played off this trope by emphasizing the irony in constructing a romance angle in a fight to the death. Other novels, like Harry Potter, Mistborn etc. keep the romance as a subplot, giving the focus to the more interesting things. You know: dark wizards and saving the world.

Now obviously, I’m giving a drastic example, but this can happen in contemporary fiction as well. I read a manuscript once where an arbitrary conflict between characters took a lot more focus from far more severe financial struggles and a natural disaster. Reading the MS had me wondering aloud ‘does this really matter right now?’ You don’t want your reader doing that.

So when you’re looking at your conflicts in your book, think to yourself: What are my conflicts? Make a list of all of them, from the bigger plot stuff to the character level dilemmas. Then reorganize that list, putting the biggest conflict at the top and the smaller at the bottom. This should help to illustrate which plot threads should be getting the majority of your focus.

Never give your reader the chance to wonder ‘why does this matter’? Focus on the right conflicts and your MS will thank you for it.

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