May 16, 2011


Because Blogger was down last week, I didn't get to post when I wanted. But here we are, a new week, and I still have plenty to write about and share!

Today's post I will be sharing what I learned from a presentation given at Storymakers Writers Conference by Clint Johnson, teacher, mentor, and author of Green Dragon Codex. His class was entitled, CONFLICT & THE MECHANISM OF STORY, and it was the first class I attended of the conference.


Having said that, when he began his class by pronouncing talent has very little to do with writing a great story, my little writer's ego went HOLD ON and dug in her heels. Lucky for Clint, well, lucky for me, he backed up his gutsy claim, and did so in a way that had my ego sitting up and taking notes like crazy.

As much talent as we've been given, as much as we have "the knack for writing", or anything else for that matter, if we don't have the tools, the knowledge, the drive to DO IT RIGHT, what good is talent? Someone with far less talent can research, discover, put forth the effort, and DO IT RIGHT. They will find themselves published while a person of "talent" is still sitting on their thumbs, or pouring out pretty drivel and submitting in a manner that gets their query deleted from the inbox because they've placed the first paragraph of their novel in the "subject" of their email to an agent who doesn't represent that genre. That was a long sentence.

Anyhow, after Clint made that point, he moved on to the focus of the class, which was CONFLICT. He compared a story to an engine, and conflict as the FUEL to the engine. You can have all the other parts there: character, voice, but without conflict the story isn't going anywhere.

I'm having a hard time choosing what to include in this post without copying my notes word for word, but there were two very effective exercises we did in class that changed the way I'm forming my characters and conflict in my current project.

Clint asked us to pinpoint our protagonist's need, the emotional need behind it, the opposition to filling that need, and the initial action that will propel the protagonist to ACT. This was eye-opening. My current project has two protagonists. Answering this challenge to the male lead was easy for me. Totally clear. The female lead? I was STUMPED. And she's the opening character. So I had to dig around, consider her, create a response to this challenge.

The second exercise addressed STAKES. External (social status, natural disaster, illness . . .) and Internal (faith, obtaining love, self-worth . . .). We were to answer the question: If our character fails, what will happen 1) Socially? and 2) Privately?

It was great to answer these questions about my characters. I could see how it would deepen the storyline and how I write their POV.

Then, after we'd written our answers, Clint commanded, "NOW, COMPLICATE THESE STAKES."

As an example, Clint used the following simple scenario.Original idea: There is a bomb that will kill 1 million people. Pretty high stakes, right? But then Clint COMPLICATED the stakes: 1 bomb that will kill 1,000 people AND ONE SIGNIFICANT OTHER.

All of the sudden it's a whole other emotional ballgame.

This command stayed with me throughout the conference and during the drive home, and afterward, I was hit with several "Ah-HA" ideas that complicate the stakes. Things that were there in the storyline I'd already set up, but BLAMMO hadn't discovered the opportunity yet.

There was so much more in this 2-hour Master Class, and it was the perfect way to kick off the conference. If you ever get a chance to attend a class by Clint Johnson, I recommend it.

So, pinpoint the conflict and all its parts, and up the stakes. Clint said, "Story is not plot. Story is how the character RESPONDS to plot."

Get after it.


Kimberly said...

So brilliantly summed up, Krista! I missed the first half of the class (because I found out the agent I was pitching to had a class in that hour) but I was sorry to have missed it.

I'm starting a new project today and suddenly my mind is on FIRE. Thank you!

Stephanie Black said...

That sounds like an awesome class! I definitely want to take a class from Clint! Thanks for the recap.

Christine Fonseca said...

Great recap - especially the seque into it!

Shallee said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this class! It's amazing how much we can take away from these classes to improve our writing.

Gretchen said...

Had to miss this one, thank you so much for the recap!

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