So, it’s the holiday season and as winter pulls the frost up over your window, you might feel inclined to snuggle up with your pen, pad, or laptop (and a snack and a mug of eggnog of course), and start writing! Fiction writers, especially sci-fi and fantasy writers, need a lot of internal motivation to build their amazing worlds and characters. So let’s do it together with Colby’s Christmas Countdown! As you countdown to Christmas Day, here are 25 holiday writing tips to help you along in your fiction journey! You might want to grab a special writing notebook to keep all your exercises in one place, too. By the end, you’ll have months worth of material to launch you into writing your novel series! 🙂

Tip #8: Novel Sketching, Conflict

We’ve been doing a lot of work over the past seven days! By now, your mind should be bubbling over with tons of ideas, themes that are important to you, unique concepts that bring a twist to your story and genre, and some core plots. You’ve even decided if you want to write a sequel novel series or a serialized novel series. Now it’s time to start laying down the foundation for our first novel, and the driving force of any novel is conflict.

RULE NUMBER ONE: Conflict shouldn’t just happen by chance. You need to build it into the fabric of your story. You need to create situations, institutions, groups, and people who will, not may, will clash and conflict. It’s not an option!

Activity of the (Holi)DAY: Using all of the ideas that you’ve brainstormed recently, answer the following questions,

1) What is the central conflict of the first book in your series? In other words, who’s fighting who?

2) Who are the opposing forces on either side of this conflict? In crime, it’s the detective and the criminal. In SFF, it’s the hero and the intergalactic dictator / Harry Potter and Voldemort / Percy Jackson and the petty Greek gods, etc.

3) What would a protagonist in this story want (generally)? What would an antagonist want (generally)? (We don’t need specific characters just yet!)

4) Are there complicated hierarchies that you need to introduce early on in the series and then develop slowly over time? If so, what are they? Hierarchies are a great way to begin embedding conflict!

5) What are the internal conflicts that could possibly develop within any character living in this world? Is the character resisting change? Embracing change all too readily?

6) What are the social conflicts (family-level, group-level, and institutional level) that could possibly spring up within this world?

Remember, this is just a sketching session! You’ll find that some of these questions feel easy to answer and that others feel extremely difficult. That’s because we still need to develop our world and the cultures within it, populate this world with compelling characters who have goals and motivations, create a world history and a world ‘status’ quo, construct character histories and more! Use this activity to kick off your thought process about potential conflicts, and then, as you develop the other aspects of your world, you can also develop the conflicts associated with these aspects. Trust me, you will start to see conflicts emerging naturally. 😉

How I Did It: In the summer of 2009, I had the following at my disposal for developing the conflicts for The Books of Ezekiel:

1) NO INTERNET, NO CABLE, NO MOVIES! Most of my possessions were back in NYC, and I was poor and couldn’t afford amenities (just electricity and barely food), so I allowed my mind to entertain me and I BRAINSTORMED WILDLY. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to my writing.

2) From my brainstorming session, I literally let my mind run wild as I researched and read through a beginner’s guide to alchemy, learning all of the ins and outs of this special tweak I wanted to put on my fantasy world. FIFTY TWO GUILDS emerged from this research and brainstorming session, and I decided immediately that I would certainly build conflict between the guilds. Make it juicy. I love drama!

3) Since I was more sure about the guilds than I was about anything else, I decided to build them, each of them, from the ground up. I asked myself, “What do guilds today do? What kinds of things did they do things in the past, and how have those things changed? What branches or aspects of alchemy should each guild focus on and specialize in?” (Check out my “guild cheat sheet” to see how I brainstormed!) From there, I built an institutional / hierarchical structure for each guild (which is still developing currently, actually), I gave each guild a brief history, important historical figures, and innovations that each one contributed to my fictional alchemical society. Thus the world of the Books of Ezekiel began to grow, as did the potential for conflicts between the guilds.

Hmm, seems like our conflict sketch turned into a world-building sketch, so let’s focus on that for our next countdown day! Stay tuned for MUCH MORE on developing your fictional world! 🙂

In the meantime, keep it indie,
<3 Colby