Like with most of the books in the series so far, I had an idea of what I wanted to address (protagonist’s desire) before I started writing this next book, book 5 of the Dragonlinked Chronicles series. I also know a lot about the two main characters (new) involved with one of the subplots. My trouble has been with the conflict for the main plot, which is to say, conflict about the thing I want to address (and hopefully resolve). For the past two months I’ve been researching and filling in my “Outline/Timeline/Brainstorm” spreadsheet for book 5 (well, the Brainstorm part, anyway). The spreadsheet has three tabs, Outline, Timeline, and Brainstorm. I throw all kinds of ideas on the brainstorm tab: what can dragons do that is new? what things are ongoing from previous books? who are some potential antagonists and their motivations? what are some new technologies/spells or evolutions of existing technologies/spells? what are some problems on Lethera right now? and what kinds of things, crazy or not, could happen to mix things up? (Incidentally, that last column about crazy things is where Chanté came from for book 4. “You broke your rule about not having miraculous ‘saves.’ Someone has to pay. How about Ulthis?”) The brainstorm tab was full to bursting with sub-plot ideas, but I hadn’t been able to get very far with an outline because I could not start on a main plot outline.
I did have an idea for a main plot antagonist, which I thought of while doing research on our own history in two areas, but for the life of me I could not find a nice, strong motivation for antagonist. I couldn’t figure out how to put antagonist in conflict with the main thing I wanted to address (apologies for being vague on that count, but I don’t want to give away too much right now). Getting strong conflict about that main idea is something akin to conflict on our world about, say, cherries being tasty. Most people would agree that they are tasty, so where’s the conflict? I’d been wracking my brain day after day, drinking coffee and staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to drum up conflict about ‘cherries being tasty.’ I did come up with ideas about things that could happen in sub-plots, but I needed something for the main plot so I could start on deeper outlining. Then, I got to thinking, what if antag doesn’t hate cherries because people think they are tasty? What if antag hates cherries because someone precious to antag was hurt because of cherries, or directly by cherries, or something like that? Antag hates cherries for something other than ‘main thing,’ but that still puts them in conflict with cherries and makes antag want to crush them. That led me to a pretty good idea for antag motivation that also ties in to previous books.
Why did I have so much worry about the antagonist’s motivation? Because the antagonist is just as important as the protagonist. Both have to feel real. Both have to think that what they are doing is right. Without good, believable motivation for the conflict, your antagonist will feel like one of those mustache-twirling, two-dimensional bad guys that no one would feel anything about. And just as with the protagonist, if readers don’t care about the antagonist, they won’t care about the conflict. They won’t care about the book.
So, if you are having trouble finding or creating conflict about the main thing in your plot, think about it another way. What about tangential conflict? Could conflict come from another angle? Antag could fight main idea/person/what-have-you for a completely different reason than direct opposition. Heck, antag might not even be fighting protag’s desire at all, but instead, their actions could merely interfere with protag’s desire and cause conflict.
At any rate, now that I have a general idea of the whos and whys of the conflict, I can finally start expanding the outline and filling in the various plot lines. And speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to work.
As always, happy reading!