Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing | Pelican Book Group Official Blog
Conflict. Real life is filled with it, and personally we seem to always be trying to avoid calamity. In fiction, though, a story isn’t worth telling unless your character is in turmoil. Readers live for conflict. A story without it isn’t much of a story at all. Conflict is what makes the reader turn the page. A good self-editor works to keep his characters’ lives exciting and complicated from one scene to the next.

Last week we looked at a scene with an eye toward a character’s goal and his motivation or drive to complete that goal. Done correctly, a character’s desire and the steps that take him toward reaching his desire should create conflict.

Let’s take a look at John, our hero from the previous two weeks. John’s goal has always been to take over the family business. His father, though, had other plans, and Dad’s Trust left John determined to do whatever it takes to control the business again.

True, there is conflict in this scene. John wants what he doesn’t have (goal/motivation), but let’s ramp up the conflict a little more this week by putting in a deterrent to his goal:

Two days after the funeral, John stood at his father’s desk, reviewing the old man’s Trust. John let the document slip from his fingers. The ticking grandfather clock, ironically left to his father by his grandfather, broke the unbearable silence as John stared out the window at the lush gardens of the mansion.

The heavy oak door of his father’s office creaked open. John rubbed tired eyes and turned at his mother’s touch on his arm. ‘Why?” He cleared emotion from his throat.

Mother ran her hand along the edge of the desk. “I don’t know.”

John picked up the Trust once again and held it out to her. “I lived my life to one day run the company, and it’s gone. My life’s work.”

“John, he didn’t leave you penniless. He left you stock in the corporation.”

John shook his head. “And I’m suppose to appreciate it. Fourteen to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, and I get a token of his appreciation.”

“He loved you. He was proud of you.”

“Funny way of showing it, Mother.” He turned to her, his gaze narrowed. “And don’t think for a moment I won’t get my company back.” Quick strides took him toward the door.

“John.” His mother’s voice held the gentle tone he needed now.

He stopped and looked back at her.

“Son, I don’t believe you read the most important part of your father’s Trust.” She held it out to him.

He blinked. What was she getting at? He moved back to her, took the Trust, and read it slowly. Then he lifted a hardened gaze to her. “He left my company in her hands?”

“Your father always loved Mary like a daughter. He said there were things you didn’t understand about her–things she couldn’t share with you. He thought if you’d just turn your life over to God, you’d see your judgment was clouded by misconception.”

John rubbed his aching forehead. “My judgment was clouded by a lot of things where Mary was concerned, the least of which was misconception.”


Insert an opposing force (in this case, Mary), and there will be conflict.

Next week we’ll take a look at developing an ending that will make the reader want to turn the page.

Until then, happy editing.

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