Guest Post: Is Conflict Necessary by CJ Carver

Wednesday 13 April 2016
Today is my stop on the blog tour for CJ Carver's brilliant new novel Spare Me the Truth which I have reviewed here. CJ is sharing a guest post asking whether conflict is necessary in books and I hope you enjoy reading it! Spare Me the Truth is out now and it comes highly recommended by me and you can purchase it here.

Dan Forrester, piecing his life back together after the tragic death of his son, is approached in a supermarket by a woman who tells him everything he remembers about his life - and his son - is a lie.

Grace Reavey, stricken by grief, is accosted at her mother's funeral. The threat is simple: pay the staggering sum her mother allegedly owed, or lose everything.

Lucy Davies has been forced from the Met by her own maverick behaviour. Desperate to prove herself in her new rural post, she's on the hunt for a killer - but this is no small town criminal.

Plunged into a conspiracy that will test each of them to their limits, these three strangers are brought together in their hunt for the truth, whatever it costs. And as their respective investigations become further and further entwined, it becomes clear that at the centre of this tangled web is a threat more explosive than any of them could have imagined.

Is Conflict Necessary?
by CJ Carver

Let’s answer that one straight away. Yes it is absolutely necessary. When the protagonist steps out of the first dramatic scene where his world has been turned upside-down (preferably in Chapter One), everything in the story should move through conflict.

It doesn’t have to be two characters having a screaming row or that the good guys are slugging it out against the bad with bloody fists. Conflict can have the lightest of touches, and a touch of oppositional dialogue can be enough to keep the reader engaged. Here’s an exchange between my character Dan Forrester and his daughter from Spare Me the Truth.

‘Do we have to visit his grave?’ Aimee picked at her duvet cover.
‘Yes, we do.’
‘We go all the time. It’s boring. I don’t want to go any more.’
‘Don’t exaggerate. We don’t go all the time.’

Adversarial exchanges are a key element in successful storytelling, without which the material would become boring. Readers enjoy conflict in fiction because it’s fiction and not in their lives. If there’s conflict on the page, hours can pass without the reader being aware.

Writers who don’t understand that life is a struggle for most of us – family difficulties, relationship troubles, job insecurity, worries about bills – tend to produce pages of meaningless violent conflict or a vacancy of real-life, close-to-the-bone conflict. A character who lives in a happily contented world would simply put the reader to sleep. Life is conflict. It’s up to us writer’s to work out where and how to choreograph our characters’ struggle.

In my new book, I bring Dan Forrester into conflict on three levels of life. Right at the start Dan discovers that his wife has lied to him and the police. He’s torn with an inner conflict that he doubts her against his love and trust in her. His personal conflict is to leave his daughter with his wife so he can talk to the police. He has extra-personal conflict when the strange woman who’s been harassing him asks him for a favour. Being a control freak, Dan labours to understand what’s going on so he can restore his equilibrium.

The primary aim in storytelling is to represent human beings in all their messy, conflicted glory, and although I’m not suggesting that every story has wall-to-wall conflict, even a love or nature story needs a spine of conflict to keep the reader’s attention. That said, conflict isn’t a constant necessity or the reader would soon lose interest with its deadly repetitiveness. There’s a balance to be had, whether the conflict is between men, men and women, man against the weather, wild animals, bureaucracy or the government. Conflict drives the engine that gives us the dramatic action of the novel. It is the life-blood of our story.

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