The Tips to Maximize Conflict in Your Novel


Whenever I blog about craft, I’m coming from the perspective of a long-time editor. I do understand that the creation process is vastly different from the editing process. I know this because I’ve been on both sides. But, if you want to minimize revisions and rewrites, it helps to have some basic editorial skills in your toolbox.

Since many of you might want to pursue self-publishing, you’re wise to hire an outside editor. The cleaner the text, the lower the bill. Even if you want an agent or to traditionally publish, the tighter the writing, the better the odds your work will earn positive attention.

Line-edit is important and no longer my area of expertise. I put commas everywhere and pay other editors the move them where they need to be. Typos happen even to the best of us. Right now, I’m editing my almost 100,000 word mystery-thriller and *head desk*. We all need a good editor. In the past 12 months, I’ve written well over 600,000 words. Yet, even with all this practice? I oops. You will oops. It happens.

Today, we’re going to talk about ways to up the tension and conflict. Conflict is what draws a reader in, what keeps them turning pages. When the conflict lags, so does the reader’s attention span. A good beta reader or content editor is a great ally for spotting these literary doldrums. I’m here to offer some guidance how be your own content editor before you pass your work onto another pair of eyes.

Tip #1—Perfect is Boring

Everyone has baggage and people who don’t aren’t the mettle of great fiction. Decisions are driven by life experiences good and bad (for fiction, bad experiences are more interesting). We don’t need to have a character who was beaten in foster care to have “issues.” We’ve all had our hearts broken, been betrayed, or even been around people who measure us against impossible standards.

A character can be impulsive because she came from a household that was far too structured. He can refuse to trust because his last job brought him in for a glowing quarterly review, only to fire him the next week. She can refuse to give in to love because she’s been self-sufficient so long she fears losing freedom.

Never underestimate the little things that can propel decisions (particularly bad ones). Many readers can’t relate to fifteen years of horrific sexual abuse, but they can easily relate to a parent, guardian or former love who was never pleased and withheld affection. They can connect to a character who’s deeply insecure because of being compared to a sibling.

I’m not saying we can’t have characters with nightmare backgrounds, but it isn’t mandatory. What is mandatory is that a character arc. If we begin with a fully actualized protagonist, then there is no way to grow, thus no crucible. The plot problem should be what fires away character flaws (refusing to be a team-player, unwillingness to trust, blind loyalty, etc.) and transforms a protagonist into a hero.

Tip #2—Some Personalities Naturally Clash

Every scene should have conflict. Conflict doesn’t need to be aggressive. Allies are often the best source of conflict in our arsenal. Think of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t the protagonist, but he creates a lot of tension because he’s utterly unpredictable. Allies never know if he’s going to sell them out to the bad guy, and often when he does, he comes to the rescue. He’s completely selfish, or is he?

If your protagonist is a paladin—embraces order and predictability, follows the rules, doesn’t like surprises—then a natural ally would be the maverick/loose cannon, the character who believes rules are “more guidelines.”

According to the Myers-Briggs, I score dead-even as an ENFP or INFP. While the MB jury is out as to whether I am an introvert or extrovert, I am off the charts on intuition. I make most of my decisions based off my gut. This gives my mom and brother—both ESTJs—a twitch. Why? We are polar opposites. I could care less about graphs, numbers and charts. My mantra?

There are lies, damn lies and statistics. ~Mark Twain

But? My mom, brother and yes, my husband, looooooove charts, Excel and bar graphs. Those closest to me process information and make decisions very differently than I do. This means, if I want them to be on the same page as I am? I have to write lists, show numbers, etc. Otherwise? We might as well be speaking two different languages. I speak the heart and they speak the head…and trust me when I say this has lead to a lot of conflict and misunderstandings.

Think Captain Kirk (all instincts) and Spock (all logic). We don’t need a ship of ticked off Klingons for all the tension. The dynamics between Kirk and Spock also propel the story and generate dramatic tension.

You're being highly illogical.

You’re being highly illogical.

If your character is a homebody? Pair her with a nomad. If he’s a rebel? Pair him with a rule-follower. You get the idea :D.

Tip #3—Nothing Worth Having Comes Easily

There is a difference between a “bad situation” and “conflict.” I recently beta read a book and part of my feedback was, “Everyone gets along too much.” Always run this simple litmus test:

“My character wants X, but then Y happens.”

It can be big stuff. Your character finds a key piece of evidence but then bad guys show and torch the place along with the proof of murder before a CSI team can get there. It can even be little stuff. Your protagonist needs to be able to unravel some problem and can’t think with noise, but one of her allies babbles like an idiot when nervous. Setbacks and roadblocks will intensify a story. Get your protagonist so close to what she wants she can taste it, then take it away.

Image via Pixar's movie "Finding Nemo"

Image via Pixar’s movie “Finding Nemo”

Also, by mixing big problems with small problems, you will be able to better control the pacing of a story. If everything is a fight scene or car chase, it not only wears out a reader, it can quickly get boring. That is actually my complaint with the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Great stories, but another sword fight? I could only watch Sparrow swinging from ropes so long before it became tedious.

Whenever I do content edit, these are some of the areas I hunt for. A victim writer might get comments like “Too perfect” “Okay, I’m asleep” “Nothing happening” “Why does everyone get along so well?” Yet, whenever you do your own revisions, these are areas you can easily fix yourself. Even I am slashing through my novel looking for the Doldrums of Nothing Happening.

Do you have personalities that just hit you like industrial sandpaper? Maybe you are highly organized, but have a sibling couldn’t find her own butt with a flashlight and Google Maps? Can you think of people you know, but there is conflict because you process information differently? Is your partner (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.) a person you like, if they didn’t drive you NUTS?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!


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    • Diane Spigonardo on January 13, 2014 at 11:37 am
    • Reply

    What a great helpful article! Cannot wait to apply it to my writing. Thanks for posting this.

  1. This post is a great way to look at my characters in my ms that I need to rework. I’ve found the plot holes and things, and I have a great handle on my mc, but I think I can add some of the tension by reworking her sibling (best friend) and eventual love interest by modifying their views on life to oppose hers. That’s probably why the one scene I’m least happy with doesn’t work, because I hadn’t fully figured out the love interest’s view. Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this blog — you told me what I “knew” in a way the finally made sense. And perfect timing for my revisions. Mahalo nui!

  3. Great advice, Kristen. Sometimes it’s very difficult to get that balance right and, as you say, it’s important to have characters disagree with each other. To me, the best characters are those who want to be in charge and openly disagree with those who are in charge. There’s nothing better than a power struggle between two characters to keep a story lively.
    Thanks for another great post.

  4. Reblogged this on Whispers in the Wind.

  5. Great post Kristen. I’m always trying to find the boring pieces. I need some good Beta readers…mine are too Thanks.

  6. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Great article by author Kristen Lamb!

  7. Timing is truly everything! I’ve been arguing with my characters for over a month to get them in bed…seriously! And just this weekend I realized they were getting along too well. No friction=no sexual tension. Torture them a little longer

  8. As always, fantastic advice! Which tipped me over the edge on deciding which intro to use for the MS sitting next to me!

  9. Woo hoo! Love this advice and need to be reminded. I love the idea of writing, “Doldrums” “I’m bored” on our own ms! Thank you for sharing this advice. I’ve got a parallel story line and agents have loved the one story line, but said the other “did not move enough, not enough conflict.” You’re tips will help to make the other story line move! Thank you Kristen!

  10. I love how you said that every scene should have conflict! It’s such an important thing to remember, especially when you’re trying to fix dull scenes/cut out the unimportant ones.

  11. Kristen, this was a great post! I’m currently wrapping up a rough draft and about to head back to the beginning and dive into edits… so perfect timing!. I will definitely be looking for the conflict in my scenes and working through your tips. Thanks!

    • Tamara LeBlanc on January 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm
    • Reply

    I watched a movie last night with my husband (3 AM, we both were up, grrr, couldn’t sleep) anyhoo, it was the most recent Die Hard movie, can’t recall the name. It was a decent action flick. I like Bruce Willis and the man who played his son did a good job, too. The conflict between father and son was very intense and interesting. I enjoyed that aspect and wanted to see more of it. The action, however (shooting, car chases, explosions) did its best to outshine the character dynamic and that dissapointed me. I truly love a good action movie, but when a bomb explodes every five seconds or a car chase lasts 15 minutes it starts to dilute the emotion in the story for me. So I’m with ya 100% on what you’re teaching in this post.
    The best stories, to me, are the ones that make me FEEL for the characters, whether they’re a rape victim or a Will Ferrel in ELF, I want to be sucked into their tale and become a part of their trials and tribulations.
    Thanks so much for the post, Kristen!
    Have a great afternoon!!

    1. I had the same reaction to the most recent Die Hard–I watch a lot of action movies and half way through that one I actually got bored and stopped watching, even though things continued to blow up. I ended up really liking Pacific Rim because the story balanced out the robots vs. alien sea creature fights. The actors were really great too, a big surprise.

  12. Thank you for these terrific tips. I especially like the line “Get your protagonist so close to what she wants she can taste it, then take it away.” I’m almost done writing my first novel about a couple trying to become parents amidst infertility, and I’m working hard to make sure I’ve incorporate what you’ve described here, and going back to fix it when I haven’t. It’s so true that each scene needs to have some level of conflict, even if it’s not the “sword fight” conflict, to keep the reader engaged. Thanks again!

  13. First off, this is genius. Secondly, how on Earth have you written over 600,000 words?

    1. Two books and LOTS of blogs, articles and guest blogs :D.

      1. You are amazing.

        1. Nah, just takes time and practice. It’s why I recommend blogging. Helps with speed. When I started out, 500 words a day was HUGE! We all begin somewhere :D.

  14. I’m Captain Kirk and my husband is Spock. Learning how to work those two together in a marriage has been a bit of a challenge, but always interesting. I’m glad I’m not the only ENFP out there that has a husband on the extreme other end- I think making decisions by statistics is ridiculous as well! It’s all about in the moment, how you feel!

    1. Same here *rolls eyes*. When I was 9 months pregnant we got stuck in a traffic jam and I had to pee BAD. Hubby refused to drive off onto the access road over the grass so I could run into the Wendy’s bathroom because it was “illegal”…and he lives to tell the tale.

  15. This was eye-opening. I’m learning a lot from your blog. Thanks for all the great posts. 🙂

    • Dellah Morte on January 13, 2014 at 12:54 pm
    • Reply

    I’m actually writing about a paladin. It is my goal to force him to break every law I can in order to protect the people he cares about. –evil laugh– I gave him a ”shoot first, never ask questions” gunslinger for a partner.

  16. I think you’ve highlighted some really good points! Especially perfect is boring, and people getting along “too well” doesn’t really work so well sometimes. Conflict and pacing can really go hand to hand, and it can be hard to get it right.

    (I like the Pirates movies, but I like the first and fourth the best. 2 and 3 of the “original trilogy” seemed to rehash the action scenes and jokes of the opening movie far too much for my taste.)

  17. I took notes on this one. Why? I am one of those people who has a lot of baggage, but I want to be able to relate to the every day woman. Mine is a story of two sisters who share an affliction in the 1950s. They are the same, yet vastly different in many ways. One will commit suicide.

    Learning how to manipulate the characters through the story line and keep them both interesting is part of my quest with this novel. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • Melissa Lewicki on January 13, 2014 at 1:35 pm
    • Reply

    I like my characters too much. It makes it hard to make bad stuff happen to them. I have heard that a really good writer needs to be a sadist. I’m gonna have to work on that.

  18. This will help so much while I am revising my WIP! Thank you so much for your advice!

  19. Bravo! Just the post I needed today from you! Amping up conflict is what I need in 2 ms now & you’ve given a great method to make that happen. Thank you, Kristen!

  20. Thank you, so much for that clear and useful advice! My first reading of that post I couldn’t help comparing what you’d written to the characters in my first chapter. Now back to my rewriting….

  21. Each character needs a goal and each goal needs hitches in the giddyup and sometimes the goals clash into each other and — most importantly — no plan survives first contact with reality.

    1. I think it’s also important that in a book with multiple goals there are goals that are never achieved. The reader must be like “ARGH, WILL THEY SUCCEED?!”

  22. Another great blog, Kristen. I’m in the process of making revisions to my novel, The Douglas Document, and your advice about building conflict was timely. Thank-you.

  23. This makes sense entirely, and something I’m going to keep a close eye on!

  24. Hating conflict in real life is the person I’ve become. That is death to fiction, though. I will attempt to make sure someone or something is giving my protag seizures in every scene. I must admit, people can be so annoying at times and that works in fiction.

    1. In Sex and the City and the new show MTV Awkward. the leads both have columns/blogs where we hear about their internal thoughts.
      In common for the two characters is that at one point they’re both thinking “it has gotten too comfortable, things are boring.”
      And I can’t help thinking: But … conflict and horror will ALWAYS find you eventually. Don’t create your own drama!
      But I guess there are people like this in real life.
      I just can’t relate to them 😛

  25. Awesome stuff here. It seems most of the commenters today are elbow deep in rewrites. Count me among them, and thanks.

  26. All very good points to think on. I shall start doing them on purpose now (I frequently throw in or change supporting cast to light a fire under a lagging protagonist).

    • DJ on January 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm
    • Reply

    This is just what I needed to read. I’m getting ready to look at my NaNo project for the first time since November and I know that I will need to make changes. This gives me insight into one aspect of what I should be looking for. Thanks!

  27. Great post. I especially appreciate the part about having little conflicts mix amongst the big ones. I’ve been told to keep it simple and focus on one main issue/ theme, but at the same time, that can get monotonous very quickly and it’s unrealistic.

    On another note, my husband is a Type A, narcissistic, obsessive compulsive, workaholic neat freak and I am creative (unorganized), crafty (hoarder), fun (scattered) and firm believer that procrastination is a perfectly acceptable way of life. But it works. Mostly. However, the relationship dynamic helps prove that character development is more interesting when there’s conflict.

  28. Aha. Nail on the head time. Two of my characters are too much the same and there’s little spark. Other just grate and I wondered why they worked so well! 😉

  29. Good examples

  30. loved this quote, “My character wants X, but then Y happens.” That will help me as I begin my revision process, ty for your great tips 🙂

  31. Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    A great post on the importance of conflict, large and small, running through your plotlines

    • Leeane on January 13, 2014 at 5:09 pm
    • Reply

    re. Myer Briggs, making decisions from your gut is actually the F/T (feeling/thinking) part of the equation, not the N/S (intuition/sensing) part.

    1. As I understand it, the Ns are intuition and coupled with the F “feeling” is a formula to break out in hives at the sight of a bar graph. It’s why authors are almost always NF’s of some sort. It’s why you want an ISTJ for an accountant or analyst.

      1. Well to Leeane’s point, as I understand Meyers-Briggs: F/T is called the decision making function, but if it were a scale it would have human emotions and needs at one end, pure rational, logic thought at the other. Do you make decisions from the heart or from the head? In other words, Dr. McCoy is a classic F and Spock is, as noted, the epitome of a perfect T. But to Kristen’s point, N/S is how one prefers to perceive and take in information: are you comfortable with abstract theories and hunches (N) or do you need hard, empirical evidence and facts (S)? So someone who makes decision from the gut, or uses their hunches, is probably an N, but not necessarily an F (I’m an ENTJ, so I have to stick up for us from the gut thinkers!)

      2. You realise you just struck dread into me with that last sentence? I’m an ISTJ working as an Accounts Clerk!
        On the plus side I’m almost ISFJ and I nearly failed Accounting in high school, so I guess there’s hope for me yet 😉
        Plus I’m going to leave my job 😀

  32. So, should I just rip apart this blog to create conflict? 🙂 … Good post.

  33. The person I have the hardest time getting along with is my mom: we are as much alike as we are different, and therein lies our conflict. We are both driven, intelligent, have high personal standards, and live with passion. I’m an art fart, she’s a science nerd who took statistics for fun. I live on intuition; she lives on logic and careful planning. I organize my writing to the nth degree and my living space not at all. She organizes her living space to the nth degree and … I can’t speak for her internal space. We’re not opposites per se; we’re the two sides of one coin.

    I’ve got this in a WIP where the the two MCs are the same and different. Both have high standards of personal excellence and want to find Grand Purpose for their lives. One looks inward for purpose; the other looks outward. One has never experienced True Loss and the other has lost everything three times. One listens; the other talks. Both believe there’s something greater to be had, if only they could figure out what it is. Both are afraid to love, but for different reasons. Both are afraid of insignificance, both feel entitled, both refuse to indulge in the introspection that might heal their wounds. Neither of them respects the views of the other.

    If they can make it to the end of the series without killing each other, that will be worth writing about.

    1. Your mother took statistics for FUN?! Jesus, I’d rather do quantum mechanics than that! O.O

    • Gaz on January 13, 2014 at 5:55 pm
    • Reply

    Why do you say “could care less” when you mean “couldn’t care less”?

  34. Love it. Perfect really is boring. You made me smile with that one 😉

  35. Great concise hints for all authors, I’m sharing with the other members of my RWA chapter

  36. Thanks for the terrific tips on how to keep conflict going. I was wondering if my current work has enough conflict/tension, but I think you’ve assured me that it has even though it doesn’t have many ‘sword fights,’ more the gentle rumble of thunder.

    • Quinn Savard on January 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm
    • Reply

    Great post! Really helpful as I go through the writing process!

  37. Conflict? That’s easy, just have the husband’s mistress working for his wife. :twsited:

    1. 😈

    2. Eh. This could easily merely become melodrama. I mean, it depends on how far you go with it. If you have twenty scenes where they’re talking and there’s only tension because the reader knows the truth but the wife doesn’t, then those scenes aren’t actually very tense. You get my drift? It can get boring to look at.

      1. The wife stopped killing her husband’s mistresses and hired the current one to be her secretary.
        Tension point: What if the wife changes her mind and kills this mistress?
        Agreed that an “only the reader knows” situation should be warranted, not just used as a device.

        1. That scenario is so way out there that I wouldn’t be able to connect XD

  38. Kristen; You are so amazing. I have been working all weekend on THE character for a story I am going to write. I have been up to my eyeballs in ENTPs, trying to figure out what their perfect selves would be and contrast that with where they are (1st dimension, 2nd dimension stuff). And, reading your points, several more comments made it into Jamie’s Bible. Thank you so much, Silent

  39. Kristin: Sometimes I read your craft tips and say “Wow great idea…never thought about that one.” At other times (like this latest post) I get confirmation that I’m on the right track….phew.

    1. I love when that happens 😀 I mean, if we only get constructive criticism it’s hard to know when we do it right, neh?

    • Kim Paluch on January 14, 2014 at 1:37 am
    • Reply

    Great advice! It is just what I needed to hear to save my story!

  40. Reblogged this on WRITE HERE – WRITE NOW.

  41. I’m a rational chart-person. Some of my actions are driven by feelings, sure, but I thought the feelings over first and always think about it afterwards. I’m an analyzer. That has gotten me into problems, too. I mean, even when I decided to confess to a guy that I liked him I was completely schematic about it. XD

    1. …and what happened? You can’t drop a line like that and leave us all hanging. 🙂

      1. Haha, I arranged it like this:
        I wrote to him: “Can we see each other, I need to talk to you.” (This is followed by weeks of flirting and drunk hugging)
        Then when we met and he asked me what it was about I awkwardly said (frankly, this is paraphrasing, the whole thing’s kinda blurry to me):
        “Well, I just wanted to talk about … you remember that party at Simon’s? It’s just, people have been asking me … I don’t know if they’ve been asking you, but like, what’s going on … with us?”
        And he was all awkward. “Yeah, people asked me, too, but I said we were just good friends, I mean, aren’t we?”
        “We’re awesome friends!”
        “Right and that night was really fun.”
        “So much fun.”
        Me: “Sooo …”
        “I mean, friends can goof around like that, right?”
        “Yeah, I guess.”
        “I mean, when did we meet? Geez, like, three months ago? People really assume too much.” *Nervous giggle*
        “Yeah, they’re so pushy.” *Disappointed blush*
        “Where are you at, you’ve never had a boyfriend, did you?”
        “I just feel like it’s really early to get a girlfriend, I mean, my last girlfriend was my friend for six months.”
        “Right. Makes sense.” *Inward glare*
        “How about you? Do you want a boyfriend?”
        TOTAL BLUSH.
        “Well, y’know … Part of me wants to have a boyfriend because I write and all and it’s an experience, but at the same time there’s so much.”
        He nodded. We looked away from each other.
        “You wanna go to the video store?” he asked.

        I should have just told him what an idiot he was for pretending he didn’t want to be more than friends 😛 I didn’t. Never did call him out on it and to this day we still pretend nothing ever happened.
        I hope that was elaborate enough X)

  42. Thanks!

  43. Perfect timing on this blog! I’m about to take one of my students through this very concept! Thank you for your guidance!

    • jerridrennen on January 14, 2014 at 6:39 am
    • Reply

    This has given me a lot to think about. Now I have to go back and look at every one of my scenes to see if they have enough conflict. Thanks, Kristen. This was awesome.

    • debcandrews on January 14, 2014 at 6:48 am
    • Reply

    Conflict is King!

  44. Reblogged this on Keep Running Characters! and commented:
    Interesting article by Kristen Lamb which highlights that though conflict is a key component in any story, that even the smallest of conflicts (like a clash of personality) should not be overlooked for the potential it has.

  45. Lovely article as always! I’m more of a heart person, but colours seem to help me a great deal! I have a conflict of personality with my father (who is my day job boss). He’s all about the Excel sheets and numbers!

    I reblogged this for you at my writing blog:

  46. Reblogged this on Daphodill's Garden.

  47. Excellent, as always. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    • sao on January 14, 2014 at 8:39 am
    • Reply

    My pet peeves reading unpublished stuff is bickering (needless conflict without a real reason. My kids do this) and monsters (bad guys who want to kill you for no good reason). I read one where there were two monster moms. Whenever the author needed conflict, she made Mom into a monster, giving both the heroine and the hero monster moms, and no, they didn’t bond over their shared life experience.

  48. I like the idea about small and big conflicts. They make us to relate better and feel. Big ones alone are not as credible. The reflection of real life are small interwoven with major issues.

    • Carina Bissett on January 14, 2014 at 9:47 am
    • Reply

    Thank you. I was starting to feel like I had too many pieces of external conflict and not enough internal conflict. This confirms it.

    • christineardigo on January 14, 2014 at 2:31 pm
    • Reply

    I have been wanting to ask this for a while.(Character Arc) In Hunger Games, Katniss starts of strong and continues to be a fighter throughout all the books. What is her arc? Yes, she gets others to become stronger, but what is hers?

    1. Haven’t read all the books, so hard to tell you. I know in the first book she goes from living/existing under an unjust system (with no plans to topple it) to standing up to it and then dismantling them using their own game. Runner to warrior?

  49. This post came just in time for my review of my NaNoWriMo novel from November. When I wrote it, the beginning half is pretty solid, and I was working my way to setting up the major blow up nearish to the end. But I was TOO NICE to my characters. Instead of a shocking death, the characters had time to say goodbye to their beloved grandfather. The main character realized her shortcomings before everything collapsed and my book STOPPED. I resolved the conflict about 15k too soon and had to go back and edit a little just to finish.

    It’s so true that conflict drives a book. Otherwise it’s just people doing boring life things and talking and driving places. This is why we read, to escape normal, boring life!

  50. Can I just say…I would give anything for Spock’s brow’s…the hair-do…meh…not so much. P.S…love your blog post…

  51. Hi Kristen
    I recently realised I am a risk-taker but was born to the most risk-averse of mothers possible. I have used this conflict in my psychological thriller about motherhood and madness, Unspeakable Things. I am going to go through and check for good ongoing conflict though, thanks to your post!

  52. Hello Kristen. You know I love your blog with advices! They’re very helpful – and I was even thinking whether or not there’s plenty of conflict in my story… I will have to re-read. Thank you so much for sharing!

  53. I have a question. I’m currently having a story beta read and one complaint I got was that I didn’t use enough commas. I have a mix of long and short sentences but she felt I needed more commas. You mentioned having too many commas in your stories so what’s the best rule when it comes to sentences and commas.

    1. (Hope you don’t mind me putting my oar in, Kristen!)

      Try reading your story out loud, without rushing. If you pause (especially for breath), insert a comma.

      E.g. “I have a mix of long and short sentences, but she felt I needed more commas. You mentioned having too many commas in your stories, so what’s the best rule when it comes to sentences and commas?”

      This helps break up long sentences into easier chunks, and avoids any confusion about which words belong to which phrases. (Technically you don’t need to put a comma before an ‘and’ like I just did, but I find it easier to read that way.)

      Hope that helps!

      1. I didn’t accurately ask my question (due to trying to be brief). My sentences are complete and don’t require commas to be considered grammatically correct. However, my beta reader didn’t like the shorter sentences and suggested I use more commas (to combine my sentences as opposed to having two short sentences). I have read that readers like shorter sentences because it makes the reading go faster. I have heard that more white space is what readers look for so I’ve been working on writing more shorter sentences. My current work is a mix of longer sentences and shorter sentences. What I was asking was – what’s the accepted “rule” when it comes to sentence length. Is my reader correct in saying that sentences should be longer and connected with commas or is the trend to have shorter sentences?

        1. There is no rule. It’s your voice and style. Editing is a tricky job. We have to give advice without editing out the author’s voice. Hemingway wrote one way and Steinbeck another. They are opposites in style but there is no right or wrong.

        2. Oh, I see! Do you have multiple readers mentioning the sentence length? If not, it may just be a matter of personal taste in this particular reader.
          I don’t think there is an accepted rule for sentence length – unless you’re writing new readers 🙂

  54. Hey Kristen! This is exactly what I have been looking for! Thank you soo much for sharing your thoughts on this. I’m sure it will help my book immensely. 🙂

  55. Speaking of using Star Trek characters for examples, let’s not forget the irascible Dr. McCoy who seemed determined to alienate both Kirk and Spock. Loved that guy!

  56. I am an INFJ… not many people out there like me. But the going with your ‘gut’… I totally relate to that.
    Just recommended your blog…and the WANA site on FB to some writers debating how to best ‘use’ FB. Author page vs Fan page… you always cover these little details so flawlessly.
    And this blog, as it so often happens, is perfectly timed for my writing group where the discussion is on finding and increasing the conflict in our novels. I see so many writers who drop their WIP before it is ever completed because they are trying to write a story with no inherent conflict.
    Thank you for being there for us all. <3

  1. […] Conflict is what draws a reader in, what keeps them turning pages. When the conflict lags, so does the reader’s attention span. A good beta reader or content editor is a great ally for spotting these literary doldrums. I’m here to offer some guidance how be your own content editor before you pass your work onto another pair of eyes.  […]

  2. […] Whenever I blog about craft, I’m coming from the perspective of a long-time editor. I do understand that the creation process is vastly different from the editing process. I know this because I’ve been on both sides.  […]

  3. […] The Tips to Maximize Conflict in Your Novel. […]

  4. […] Conflict is what draws a reader in, what keeps them turning pages. When the conflict lags, so does the reader’s attention span. A good beta reader or content editor is a great ally for spotting these literary doldrums. I’m here to offer some guidance how be your own content editor before you pass your work onto another pair of eyes.  […]

  5. […] Lindermuth addresses story tension and keeping the reader uncertain; Kristen Lamb has tips to maximize conflict in your novel; and Victoria Grefer discusses how to make shocks and surprises […]

  6. […] you’re in luck because this week the Divas recommend Tips to Maximize Conflict in Your Novel from social media expert and author Kristen Lamb, who is the author of We Are Not Alone—The […]

  7. […] be missing the best plot ideas in your story. All stories need conflict, and Kristen Lamb shares tips to maximize conflict in your novel. And if you’ve ever struggled with how much time your story should cover, K.M. Weiland has the […]

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