December 2023 – Jericho Writers
Jericho Writers
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Our Articles

Character Conflict is the Driving Force of Every Story

My childhood world was painted with the enchantment of books, a gift I owe to my ever-inspiring mother. The worlds and characters that came to life on the pages of my favourite fantasy novels (I particularly remember Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara) transported me to places beyond my imagination.  I remember those winter evenings, under the warm covers of my bed when I passionately lived the adventures of elves, gnomes, and trolls in the woods and castles. My passion for reading has never abandoned me, and inspired by these stories, as a boy, I had a burning desire to become a writer myself. However, I soon realized that creating compelling stories was no easy task. So, I approached the study of dramaturgy, and it was only when I understood the concept of characters’ conflict that I truly understood what makes stories really work. In this article, we will explore the different types of conflicts in a story, the role of conflict in driving storytelling, and how conflict enhances character development. The role of conflict in driving storytelling Conflict is the driving force behind a story.  Without conflict, we don’t have a story. Conflict creates tension, raises stakes, and keeps readers engaged by presenting challenges the characters must overcome to change the condition of things.  Every story is the story of a change in the condition of things and of the evolution of characters during this process. There are two main types of conflicts: external conflict, which occurs when a character faces an obstacle or antagonist outside of themselves.  internal conflict, which takes place within a character’s mind and emotions. It involves the character’s struggles with their own desires, fears, or moral dilemmas.  Exploring the different types of external conflict Let’s examine some examples of external conflict and their impact on storytelling. Character vs. Character Conflict This occurs when two or more characters have opposing goals or beliefs that directly clash with one another. The clash of personalities and motivations creates tension and drives the plot forward. In Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, the protagonist must confront an antagonist who seeks to unleash dark forces upon the world. The conflict between these two characters fuels the narrative, as the protagonist must find a way to overcome their adversary and save the world from destruction. Character vs. Society Conflict This conflict occurs when a character’s desires or beliefs are at odds with the norms and expectations of the society in which they live. The character must navigate the challenges and obstacles presented by societal norms, often facing resistance and opposition. In Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, Tom, a mischievous young boy, rebels against the rules and expectations of his small town. His desire for freedom and adventure clashes with the structured society he finds himself in, leading to numerous conflicts throughout the story. Character vs. Nature Conflict Character vs. nature conflict arises when a character must battle against the elements, natural disasters, or the harsh realities of the natural world. This form of conflict highlights the character\'s vulnerability and struggle to survive and overcome the forces of nature. In Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, the protagonist faces the brutal cold of the Alaskan wilderness. The struggle against the freezing temperatures and treacherous conditions becomes a central conflict, highlighting the fragility of human existence in the face of nature’s power. Exploring the different types of internal conflict Internal conflicts are as crucial as the external battles characters face. Let’s explore various types of internal conflicts. Character vs. Self Conflict This type of conflict occurs when a character is at odds with themselves. It may involve doubts, insecurities, or personal issues that challenge the character. This conflict often explores the deeper facets of the protagonist, leading to personal growth and self-discovery. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, Jay Gatsby finds himself entwined in a ceaseless wrestle with his shadowy past, a consuming passion for Daisy Buchanan, and the elaborate façade he has meticulously crafted to assimilate into the upper echelons of high society. Character’s Fear vs. Ambition Conflict This conflict involves the contrast between a character’s fear or uncertainty and their ambition or goals. In the crucible of this inner turmoil, the character is compelled to confront the shadows of their own apprehensions while steadfastly pursuing their dreams and aspirations. In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, Harry, faced with the omnipresent dread of the evil Lord Voldemort, must summon his unwavering courage and resilience, all the while relentlessly pursuing his noble ambition to defeat the dark wizard and safeguard the wizarding world. Character’s Guilt vs. Redemption Conflict This type of conflict delves into the character’s feelings of guilt and their quest for redemption through corrective or altruistic actions. The character’s conscience becomes a battleground, tormented by the weight of remorse yet driven by a desire to atone for their past actions. In Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities”, Sydney Carton is entwined with the theme of redemption. Consumed by the guilt stemming from his dissolute past, he is compelled to seek redemption through a singular, selfless act that will alter the course of his life and the lives of those around him.  Character’s Love vs. Ambition Conflict This conflict revolves around the intricate interplay between personal love or relationships and the pursuit of ambition, success, or revenge. The character is trapped in the conflicting currents of their heart’s desires and overarching personal goals. In Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”, Heathcliff grapples with the relentless tempest within his soul, torn between the all-encompassing love he harbours for Catherine Earnshaw and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance against those who have inflicted deep wounds upon his spirit.  Character’s Self-Identity Crisis Conflict In this type of conflict, the character grapples with an identity crisis, embroiled in a profound struggle to fathom their true essence. This internal turmoil is frequently marked by the presence of duality or intricate layers within the character’s identity. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Dr. Jekyll confronts an identity crisis that directly results from his transformation into Mr. Hyde. This metamorphosis plunges him into an inner conflict and serves as a thought-provoking examination of the dual nature within us all. Character vs. Moral Conflict Moral conflict is a compelling form of internal conflict that explores the clash between a character’s sense of right and wrong. This conflict arises when a character faces ethical dilemmas or must make difficult choices that challenge their values and beliefs.  In “Romeo and Juliet”, Shakespeare presents a character vs. moral conflict as the star-crossed lovers navigate their forbidden love. The conflict between their intense passion for one another and the feuding families they belong to creates a moral dilemma that drives the play\'s tragic events. How conflict enhances character development When characters face challenges and conflicts, they are forced to confront their fears, weaknesses, and flaws. This process of self-discovery and growth adds depth and complexity to the characters, making them more relatable and compelling to readers. Conflict reveals a character’s true nature. In times of crisis, characters are pushed to their limits, and their actions and choices define who they really are. For example, a character who faces a moral dilemma may reveal their values and principles through their choices. Furthermore, conflict allows characters to transform. As they navigate through challenges and overcome obstacles, characters evolve and change. They learn from their mistakes, acquire new skills, and develop resilience. This transformation adds depth to the characters and gives readers a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. Creating compelling conflicts in your writing As a writer, to create compelling conflicts, consider the following techniques. Establish clear goals and motivations. Each character should have clear goals and motivations that conflict with those of other characters. These conflicting goals create tension and drive the plot. Raise the stakes. Make the consequences of failure high for your characters. The higher the stakes, the more invested your readers will be in the outcome of the conflict. Create complex characters. Characters should have strengths, weaknesses, and flaws that can lead to conflicts. Develop well-rounded characters with conflicting traits to generate internal conflicts. To create complex characters, you can use writing software specifically designed for character development, such as bibisco, which allows you to get to know your characters thoroughly in a fun way — by interviewing them. Introduce unexpected twists: Surprise your readers with unexpected turns of events that create new conflicts or escalate existing ones. This keeps the story unpredictable and exciting. Allow for growth and change: Conflict should lead to character growth and transformation. Characters should learn from their conflicts and evolve throughout the story. Techniques for resolving conflicts in a story While conflict drives storytelling, resolving conflicts effectively to provide a satisfying conclusion is also important. Here are some techniques. Character growth and change. Conflict should lead to character growth and change. Characters should learn from their conflicts and evolve throughout the story, meaningfully allowing them to resolve conflicts. Compromise and negotiation. Characters can resolve conflicts through compromise and negotiation, finding common ground and working towards a mutually beneficial solution. Redemption and forgiveness. Conflict resolution can also involve redemption and forgiveness. Characters may reconcile their differences and find forgiveness, leading to the resolution of conflicts. External intervention. Sometimes, conflicts require external intervention, such as the involvement of a third party or the discovery of new information that changes the dynamics of the conflict. Sacrifice and selflessness. In some cases, conflicts may be resolved through sacrifice and selflessness. Characters may put aside their desires and interests for the greater good, leading to the resolution of conflicts. Conclusion Conflict is crucial to keep readers engaged and invested in a story. It creates tension, suspense, and excitement, making readers eager to know how the conflict will be resolved.  Conflict also allows readers to connect with the characters on an emotional level as they witness their struggles, growth, and triumphs. Moreover, conflict provides readers with a sense of catharsis. As they witness characters facing and overcoming challenges, readers experience various emotions, from fear and anxiety to relief and satisfaction.  This emotional journey adds depth and richness to the reading experience, making the story more memorable and impactful.

Freya Berry on the Art of Pitching and Perseverance

We were thrilled to chat to author Freya Berry about her second book, The Birdcage Library, and hear all about how she quit her job to write her first book and how she ended up meeting her agent at our Festival of Writing. Thank you so much for catching up with us, in midst of what we expect is a very busy time for you. I sort of been recovering since The Birdcage Library came out on the 22nd (June), and I\'ve just been trying to lie down in a dark room. I always feel like publishing a book is slightly like a slow motion nervous breakdown, so it\'s nice to be sort of blinking in the daylight again. And yeah, getting back to my normal life and thinking about book three. After your well-deserved rest, what is next on the horizon? So I had to book contracts with The Dictator’s Wife and the and The Birdcage Library, I\'m sort of coming out of that for the first time since my career started. I\'ve got the idea for the third book, which I\'ve been working out with my agent, and next it’ll be taking it to my editor and seeing what she thinks and all that absolutely not nerve wracking stuff. Can you tell me a little bit about how your first book came about? So I used to work in journalism and now I think I really love taking fact and making that into fiction. The Birdcage Library is based on real life people, real life animal dealers who lived in New York in the Gilded Age and the Dictator\'s Wife is very much based on real life dictator\'s wives and those kind of people. So, I was working in journalism and realized that wasn\'t for me. I preferred making stuff up (to a point). So, I gave myself a year to write a book. I had been working in journalism for about four years and I spent a year and a half of that writing a first novel, which was terrible. I\'ve never gotten back to it. But I think it was a good way to understand what the process involves, at least. I sent that novel out to a few agents not really knowing what I was doing and I got some feedback which was really helpful. It kind of made me understand that the book was never going to work. I kind of knew that, but it was helpful in encouraging me to try again. So, I quit my job. I gave myself a year. I lived off savings and was able to live my parents’ house for a few months. That’s amazing, such a brave move. There was this one amazing agent who gave me pages of feedback, which was unbelievably kind of him. And so that did make me think that maybe this is something that I could do. I also spent a hell of a lot of time agonizing with myself. Should I quit my job to write? You can sort of reverse engineer it to make it sound like it was a plan, but it was a massive chance to give myself a definitive amount of time to do it. I’d saved up but it was definitely a leap of faith. It was a good thing I didn’t know what I was doing otherwise it would have been too scary!So I took that year out, I just been reporting on the 2016 US election, which was obviously the one where Trump won for the first time, and it was Melania Trump, this sort of fake news concept and what is truth and so on, that became the roots of The Dictator\'s Wife. I didn\'t know what I was going to write before I decided to quit, it just grew out of that experience. I wanted to set the Dictator\'s Wife in a fictional eastern European country where I had spent a bit of time in the past. I went back and I spent four months researching.I turned up in Bucharest in February. There was snow on the ground, it was ten o’clock at night and my Airbnb host was late arriving and I thought what am I doing? As I was waiting in this dark stairwell for him to turn up, he arrived and said ‘I\'m so sorry. I\'ve just been to the protest.’ It turned out they were having the biggest protest they\'d ever had since 1989 that night. So I went along with him and 300,000 people in the square chanting against the government and ended up in an underground bar in this abandoned palace. It became a protest scene in the book and was a real instigating moment for that whole process. So, I was in Eastern Europe for four months, writing every day and talking to people and learning about the area and immersing myself. After about four or five months, I had that first draft. I did another two or three drafts before I signed. I thought I\'ve taken it as far as I could go. And that was around the time that I found the Festival of Writing. I came up to York and scoped out which agents I was interested in and one of my one-to-ones was with James Wills. Then he became my agent. So, York was really integral to that. It got a couple of other offers from agents at that festival too. It was a real turning point for me to be able to feel like this is a real thing. Amazing. So, you met with James for your one-to-one, can you tell us how the other offers came about? Yes, so I sent I sent James and a couple of the other agents who were interested the full manuscript. James had read the first chapter already and the others I pitched to while I was there. That’s amazing. So, you pitched agents whilst you were at the Festival of Writing? I think the good thing about being a journalist is you have to be utterly shameless in going up to people. So I think that was quite helpful. I think writing, as I\'ve learned, is more about hustling than you think. If you can go up to people, be nice and not aggressive, just to tell them in a few words whether it might be something they might be interested in, I think that\'s a really helpful skill to develop. So, I went up to a couple of agents who liked the sound of it and they asked for the full manuscripts and I got a couple of offers off the back of that. But James seemed to really get the vision and we aligned. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for those conversations! How do you go up to an agent and pitch in person? I perfected a little elevator pitch. What it is at the heart of this book and what makes it unique. The art of the sell is very different obviously to what you\'re writing. So, it\'s just kind of understanding what is important about your story and taking enough of a step back to understand the things that make people go, ‘ooh.’ It can be really hard to distil a 90,000 word novel into a sentence or two, removing things you have your heart set on. I think agents do understand that they\'re not getting the full book in the sentence. For example, I think for The Dictator\'s Wife, my pitch was - dictator’s wife stands trial for her dead husband\'s crimes and weaves a web of secrets and lies around her young female defence lawyer - or something like that. And The Birdcage Library was: an adventuress discovers an old diary hidden in the walls of a Scottish castle which contains clues about this woman who vanished 50 years before, or something like that. Can you tell us more about what happened after you signed with your agent? Yeah, with, with my agent, we worked on the Dictator\'s Wife for a good year. There\'s no guarantees in this industry and so my work was very much focused on getting the manuscript to where it needs to be. And then James took the book and pitched it to editors. What advice would you give to writers? It’s interesting to hear you wrote an entire book before The Dictator’s Wife. I didn’t expect how much perseverance it takes to get a book published. You read the stories of people who say that they wrote a book on a whim, sent it off and got fifteen offers by the next morning. From the vast number of writers I\'ve spoken to, that is not representative. I’m grateful that I didn’t know how long and arduous the process would be before I started. It’s really important to be honest with yourself and make your book the best it can be. After I got an agent, I rewrote the entire book from third person to the first person. I remember it so well! I literally opened up a blank document next to the manuscript and just started. You just can’t give up, that is the biggest differentiator. It might not be the first book or the second, but it’s just the people who don’t give up and are prepared to go through that mill who make it. It is the only industry that I’ve ever encountered that talks about ‘positive rejections’ which tells you everything! It’s hard to put yourself out there. And then afterwards, it’s easy to say well done to you for coming through it. But at the time, no one is cheering you on, it’s only you and your self-belief, and hopefully your friends and family. It’s a big thing and I think anyone who is doing it is really brave and should feel loads of self-respect for themselves. No one will make you do it but that’s sort of the joy and the terror of it. Freya Berry studied English Literature at Cambridge. She graduated with a double first and worked as a financial and political journalist at Reuters and the Daily Mail in London and New York. Her debut novel The Dictator\'s Wife was featured on the BBC\'s Between the Covers and was The New European\'s novel of the year. Her second, The Birdcage Library, is a story about an adventuress, part-based on her namesake Freya Stark. Freya lives in London. Freya’s second novel, The Birdcage Library, is out now.
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