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Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Week 12: The Duel

They got to fight for the story to win. They got to fight for the story to win.

Editor's Note: Sarah Hoyt's 13 Weeks Novel Writing series will now be appearing on Saturdays alongside Charlie Martin's original 13 Weeks series, my 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen, and additional upcoming 13 Week experiments. It'll be a self-improvement-themed saturday with numerous writers exploring techniques to better themselves. -DMS


You’d think the title of the post would refer to my relationship with the book this week. Though mostly what kept me from engaging it too closely mano-a-keyboard was the fact that my eczema decided this was an excellent week to engage in a revival ALL over my palms and the tips of my fingers. I must find out if Dragon Naturally Speaking will work for me in its latest incarnation. Last time I tried was several versions ago and it couldn’t cope with the accent, even after training.

There are a number of my colleagues who do use Dragon, and I might have to try again, if my hands continue their current path of rapid disintegration. You too might consider it if you find yourself blocking hard. Sometimes just changing the way you work jiggles the block loose.

At any rate, despite the slow progress on the book and my fight with my body’s issues, the “duel” I’d like to discuss refers to “conflict” in the book.

My first introduction to some people’s concept of what conflict should be came in my first writing group, where a gentleman objected to the chapter I’d submitted because “there’s no conflict.”

In fact, there was a young man rapidly clearing out of the home he’d been living in for close on to twelve years, because he had come to the conclusion those who were hunting him had found his location. I explained that there was conflict, not just potentially between the character’s desire to get away and the certain objection of those hunting him, but also between the character’s need to escape and the desire of his patrons to protect him. Then there was the conflict inside the man himself, between his wish to stay in the only stable home he’d ever known, and his fear of bringing death on his adopted family.

The writers’ group member blinked at me stupidly, (I use the word advisedly) and said “But you know, conflict. Like fist fights. Arguments. He has to argue with someone.”

While I will agree that chapters are better for a bit of dialogue -- these days when I have a character alone for a few chapters I have him mutter to himself, talk to a pet, plant or ghost of dead friend if I can at all contrive it without making him sound completely insane – and while I will concede that arguing (and fist fights!) are conflict, they are more the external expression of conflict than the real thing.