As I was reflecting on how I started on Up Pops the Devil , I realized that at some point early in the process, I pulled out Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel and gave it a review. Then I realized I do this with EVERY book!
As one would expect, the book is BIG on conflct. One of the things Mass talks about is "inherent conflict." The best examples I can give of this are the growing numbers of books set in churches, or what I call, "church fiction." Placing characters with severe moral problems and hypocrisies in a church immediately heightens the conflict. It’s one thing to have adultery, fornication, lying and deceit going on, but it’s taken to a whole other level when it’s going on among folks in a church because church is not the place you would expect to find such activity. Or most people wouldn’t. The same could be said for the "urban lit" phenomenon. If your story takes place on violent streets or in violent neighborhods, you’ve heightened its conflict. With "inherent conflict" you add to the tension of your story because of the setting you choose. John Grisham did it with his mob lawyers in The Firm.
You can do this in Christian fiction by putting your Christian characters in situations that are or seem to be at odds with their faith. In Up Pops the Devil, my protagonist, Preacher, has a jailhouse conversion. Right off the back, you begin to wonder if it’s real.
Another thing that Maas discusses is "advanced characters," or something like that. Here he talks about having characters take on multiple roles to enhance conflict. For example, the antagonist and protagonist are related or have some shared history. Or the hero and heroine come from fueding families.
I used this one a lot in Up Pops the Devil . The story is about Preacher, his sister, his fiancee’, one of his old girlfriends and a new friend. It’s one thing to become a Christian and have to deal with friends who aren’t Christians. In that case, you can cut them off. It may be difficult, but you can do it. You can’t exactly cut off your sister or your fiancee’ or doing so is much, more difficult. Because of the difficulty, the conflict/tension is heightened in the story. Then there’s Preacher’s old girlfriend. Well, it’s one thing to have to deal with her, but it’s a whole other thing if she’s married to his Christian mentor. Again, heightened conflict.
Those are just two points from the Maas book. I think it’s good reading for any writer so consider giving it a try.
Now that I’ve told you about my writing ritual, you can tell me about yours. Who’s going first?