When you write a book, you always need to keep the story in mind. Now while it’s true that with a memoir you need to stick with what really happened, you can never sacrifice the necessary ingredients for a good book. For instance, you must create conflict in your story. If everything is hunky-dory throughout, your readers will become bored. Wouldn’t you?
It’s a bit easier to create conflict in your story when you are writing a novel because you aren’t limited by true events. However, some authors still have trouble with this concept when they aren’t writing an action adventure. Keep in mind that all genres, all good books, have drama of some sort, created by tension and conflict.
Before I get into conflict in detail, it is worth shining a spotlight on tension first. Tension is created by a threat of conflict. It’s the waiting period, when you know something is about to happen, but hasn’t yet. Then a writer uses conflict to release the tension at the right time.
For instance when you read an action adventure novel, you’ll find that when the hero is about to face his arch nemesis, he must first prepare for battle. The author doesn’t skip that part, but rather milks it. There are chapters devoted to this preparation because as a reader, we need to feel our protagonist’s tension. We need to worry for him. Will he be successful? What will the outcome be? Will anyone die?
Now when I was younger, that tension wasn’t as great because I assumed the brave hero would always survive. However, when I discovered that some authors had a reputation for killing off his main characters, it really amped up the tension for me. For instance, when I read A Song of Ice and Fire, I was shocked to learn that anyone could lose their life in that world. No longer could I rest assured that a man or woman who’d been well developed and whose shoes I’d walked in, would be safe.
For those who are fans of the series (TV or book), were you as shocked by the Red Wedding as I was? For me this lack of safety for the heroes of a book really created a lot of tension for future books as I never knew who’d survive from the literary guillotine.
It’s interesting, but without tension, never-ending conflict can become boring. As an author we need to thread tension through our novel. Same goes with a memoir. Keep the tension there, so the reader wants (or needs) to turn the page to find out what happens to you, the hero.
As you continue to gain experience as a writer, you’ll notice just how key it is to create conflict in your story. Keep in mind that conflict can take many forms. Through conflict we really have a story. Without it there is no tension, no obstacle, and no reason to read the book.
Let’s delve into a few options you have when you tell your story.
Conflict with others
The first thing you probably think about when you hear the word conflict is the concept of conflict with another person. Two boxers in a ring, duking it out. I’m sure you can come up with many examples of this: Star Wars, Harry Potter, James Bond, etc.
In addition, you can consider all the supernatural foes that heroes need to conquer. Some villains are sans a body but are menacing none-the-less.
This form of conflict is easy to create if you’re writing a novel. However, with a memoir, what do you do if there aren’t any evil dudes? Well, don’t worry, there are other workable sources for potential conflict that don’t involve another person.
Some books center around the concept of the internal battle of the protagonist. For a memoir, this will probably be a key component. For example, I’ve had many requests from former inmates or drug addicts to write their life story about the struggle to become clean and ethical. Without any outside influence, these men and woman all faced intense conflict.
Debate is another form of tension and conflict; some stories center around a driving question for the protagonist. In a romance, the heroine might debate the wisdom of dating again after having lost a partner. Or in an action adventure, the hero might wonder if he is truly worthy of the role. In a family drama, the youngest child might wonder if she should stand up to her parents about her life goals.
Internal dragons can breathe a powerful fire when you create conflict within your hero.
Battling the environment
Mother nature can create conflict in your story just as easily as a person can. Perhaps you survived a cataclysmic event and wish to tell that story. Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes can set a challenging backdrop for a story, whether they be fiction or memoir.
While these are exciting and nail biting, don’t forget that our society can also be an excellent source of environmental conflict. An oppressive government regime has been the backdrop for many memoirs that I’ve ghostwritten. There is never-ending tension and conflict throughout those books. Racial tension and social inequality are additional popular themes in many stories throughout the last few hundred years.
Then there are the physical space barriers that can cause our protagonist difficulties. Whether it be a literal prison or a figurative one. When one is stuck in an airplane with a deadly bomb, there are a few sources of conflict abound. Or if you’ve lived your life stuck in your apartment afraid to go outside, that can be a huge physical barrier.
There are many environmental barriers we all face on a regular basis.
Whether you’re writing about your life or creating a world for a protagonist, you’ll need to make sure your story contains tension and conflict, with some kind of resolution. With those components your book will be well-read, well-reviewed, and readers will clamor for the sequel.
Additional articles to read:
How to Create Three-Dimensional Characters