Thursday, June 4, 2015

Conflict Vs. Tension - A Guest Post by Melissa Tagg!

Friends, I am SO excited to be hosting the fabulous Melissa Tagg on the Alley today! She is a dear friend of mine and such a talented writer. If you haven't already read her new book, From the Start, be sure to pick up a copy... I know you'll love her writing as much as you'll love her! -- Ashley


Hi, guys! It’s so fun to be back at the Writer’s Alley. Thanks bunches for having me.

So, recently a couple writer friends played superhero to my damsel in writing-distress. I’m in the final stretch of rewrites before my late-June deadline. And for weeks, I’ve had this pit in my stomach that something was wrong with my story. I thought it was just the meet-cute—you know, that point where the hero and heroine meet. It wasn’t, well, cute enough, I guess.

So I sent out a SOS to some of the coolest writers I know and had the immense blessing of spending some valuable Google Hangout time with Rachel Hauck and Beth Vogt. They asked all the right questions…got me to the point of admitting the problem with my story wasn’t just the meet-cute but, ahem, kinda the whole story. And by then end of the Hangout, I’d decided to remove one rather massive thread from my story.

I’m hopeful my editor has fully recovered from the shock of the news…but perhaps only time will tell. J (Actually, honestly, both my editors were hugely gracious about my “plot schizophrenia” and even helped me dig to make sure all the story pieces are in place as I make the change. So it’s all good. And I’ll still make the deadline!)

But I bring up all this as a looong way of introducing what I’d like to talk about in this post: Conflict vs. Tension

If you’d asked me a few years ago to describe conflict or tension in a story, I might’ve given the same definition for both. They feel similar on a surface level.

But they’re actually two very different things. At least in my head. I’ve come to define them this way:

Conflict: The stuff that happens in the story. The obstacles. The disappointments. The problems.
Tension: The taut feelings that happen in the story. The push and pull, the strain, that sense of being torn.

In the original version of the story I’m currently working on, I made the mistake—as I think we novelists often do—of thinking my hero needed more conflict. More to do. More in his way. Because the story felt a little too light. So I threw an extra story thread at him.

And it backfired. You know why? Because in filling the pages with one more conflict, I robbed myself of space for tension. Internal tension. Romantic tension. Spiritual tension.

In removing that thread and replacing it with something a little more logical and a little less complicated, I’m giving my guy—Logan Walker is his name and I love him!—more time on the page to develop and deepen as a character.

Don’t get me wrong. We NEED conflict in our books. We need obstacles and challenges and disappointments. We need to throw crappy stuff at our characters and see how they deal with it all.

But the best stories aren’t just rife with outward conflict…they’re hefty with a depth that comes from internal tension. The tension that forms from a fear of failure. Or a romance that can’t possibly work. Or the push and pull of conflicting values or goals. Tension is a little harder to pinpoint, it takes a little more finesse to craft…but when it’s there, it’s THERE.

I think of conflict as something that widens a story…and tension as the thing that deepens the story. And I think the best story tension grows where a character’s greatest dream collides with his greatest fear.

And here’s where I take a turn for the spiritual. I think sometimes I approach my life as a series of goals to meet and conflicts to work through and chapters to complete and story threads to add. I let life get wide—possibly wider than it should be—and my faith becomes like a subplot that hobbles along, not fully developed, trying to exist alongside everything else…  

And what I really want? What I really crave? A life that’s deep. A life where I’ve got space to develop into the person I want to be…instead of a character who just hurries from one chapter to the next, juggling too many story threads.

I want to recognize the threads that aren’t working and take the time to get untangled.

I want to find that tension-filled place where my dreams and fears meet up…and see what God will do when I let him deepen the story of my life.

Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She writes romantic comedy for Bethany House, and is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Her latest book is From the Start, the first in her new Walker family series. Check out the FREE enovella prequel, Three Little Words. Connect with Melissa at www.melissatagg.comFacebook, Twitter (@Melissa_Tagg) or Instagram (melissatagg).


Sarah Forgrave said...

Oohhh, I love this differentiation, Melissa! AND, I just finished reading From the Start yesterday and loved it!! Can't wait for the next installment in the series.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Oh, oh, Oh, I LOVED this, Melissa! Your descriptions of conflict and tension make so much sense. And as I'm revising my book, I am going to begin really thinking these through. :)

More than that, I loved what you shared about growing as a person rather than a character in the story of your life. Such important words for all of us.

Unknown said...

@Sarah, yay I'm so glad you liked the book. So, so glad! You put a smile on my face.

@Jeanne, hurray so glad the post was helpful and made sense. I worried it got a bit too long and I almost took out the personal/spiritual part at the end. Glad I left it in, though, because man, writing just has so many life applications to it, doesn't it? It's such a stretching thing, this writing journey... :)

Ashley Clark said...

I typed out a long reply to all of you that my phone deleted!! Boo! So instead, I'm just going to say, love this discussion today and love you guys!

Brandy Bruce said...

Melissa, you know I think you're awesome. :) Great post, girl. Super helpful!

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks for coming by, Brandy!

Unknown said...

@Brandy, right back atcha. :)

@Ashley, thanks so much for having me!

Unknown said...

I'm learning a lot from this Alley. Since I started, my writing skills have improved greatly...I do however have one question. How do I get you to be a guest writer on my blog. I'd really love my readers to learn from you. MY blog is TITODIARIES.BLOGSPOT.COM...My email is'd really appreciate it, thanks