Conference Challenge #3: Conflict – Can’t live with it, can’t write without it.

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

-Mark Twain

Well if that isn’t a loaded quote, I don’t know what is! It made me laugh, think and created quite a visual.

Typical Mark Twain.



As a writer, it says one thing to me: nothing gets the job done like conflict. Serious, cat-scratch stingin’, bloody conflict…figuratively speaking, of course.

In a guest article on Chuck Sambuchino’s blog over at the Writer’s Digest website (bookmark this site, please!), YA author Eileen Cook says:

“Most fiction suffers from not enough conflict, not too much.  With every book and every scene, ask yourself ‘what would make this worse?'”

Yup, carrying a cat by the tail definitely makes a situation worse.

Which brings me to this week’s challenge. No, not making your cat or any other animal miserable (I’d pinch your head off if I ever got wind of that!).

Writer’s Challenge #3: 

Write a scene rife with conflict. It could be the first page of a book or a turning point later in the story. Remember that the emotional stakes need to be high: A loner who is a secret agent with a death wish on a dangerous mission isn’t going to pull the reader in as much as one who has family and friends waiting at home.

Illustrator’s Challenge #3:

Once again, Susan Detwiler has offered a winning challenge. Create a character who is very upset and another who is trying to soothe him.

Remember you can do these challenges any time. All we ask is that you comment on each challenge post that you have indeed completed it. It’s not necessary to share your work, but we certainly welcome it!

Conference Challenge #1: Two Friends and a Kitchen Table

Conference Challenge #2: Victimize a Villain

Happy writing and illustrating!

About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
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8 Responses to Conference Challenge #3: Conflict – Can’t live with it, can’t write without it.

  1. Summer B says:

    My tailless cat kept me company as I wrote, happily watching my frustration. I needed this challenge. I’d been at a standstill with a scene in my WIP. Now I have a scene were main characters are ticking off powerful chiefs, plots are devised for dealing with poaching pirates, and good-byes are said between interesting secondary characters.

    Thank you for giving me a challenge that forced me to face this scene!

    • susanmannix says:

      You are so welcome, Summer! My apologies for not coming here earlier and congratulating you. Can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that this exercise helped you with your WIP. Keep writing!

  2. Better late than never … here is challenge #3 from my novel in progress, HARBINGERS:

    The GTO stopped on a dime, as always, and the engine rumbled ready to charge on. Charlie knew that wasn’t happening as the road, without warning, had narrowed into a slim path and disappeared into the woods. The trees were thick, standing close together. The ivy tangled around their trunks and criss-crossed from tree to tree, nearly hiding the path and seemingly warning Charlie and Loralie to stay away. His heart sank realizing there was no way he could drive any farther. He looked over at Loralie sitting expressionless in the passenger seat. His first thought was that she was giving up. Somewhere deep in her heart she desired to be finished – to be done with it, once and for all. He hadn’t known her for long, but he believed that she was not one to give up easily or without a fight. He had to keep her from letting that retreating signal from her brain and heart take over.
    “Loralie, we have to keep going, we have to go in there.” Charlie nodded toward the jumbled mess of brush, leaves and bushes.
    To Charlie’s surprise, Loralie jumped out of the car and began marching headlong into the forest. He followed, his heart encouraged by her fervor. Somewhere inside him, though, he felt a foreboding. He realized Loralie’s blank expression had not been her giving up, but her steeling herself to face the darkness that lie ahead.
    Charlie’s fear grew greater by ten-fold when he parted the branches and followed Loralie into the dim woods. The maples fought the massive oaks for rays of sunlight and were losing the battle. The limbs of the saplings trying hard to overtake the path slapped Charlie about the face. He could see Loralie up ahead moving up the mountainside like she knew the path.
    “Loralie, wait for me.” Charlie tore through the gnarly saplings to catch up to her.
    “Charlie, it’s best if you turn back now. I can do this myself,” she called over her shoulder.
    “No, we have to stick together; we have to help each other survive this.”
    She said nothing, just turned and soldiered on. The same blank look on her face. The path became rockier, twisting their ankles and tripping them every few feet. Giant tree roots jutted out of the ground like stair steps up the steep rocky path. The tree roots soon took over the path and their limbs dipped lower and lower until the travelers had to stop to untangle Loralie’s hair from a hovering branch. Her soft tresses tumbling about his fingers as he pulled twig and leaf from her hair reminded him of the time they met in the sandwich shop in town. Her hair, dark and thick, had been adorned with tiny leaves and flowers made of silky ribbon. Loralie was the prettiest girl Charlie had ever seen. He had fallen for her. Even after finding out what she was, he loved her. Her lips, pale and frowning now, were rosy red and firm with purpose.
    Loralie caught his hand bringing him back to his task. She held it and pressed it to her cheek closing her eyes like she was remembering. Charlie wondered what she could be thinking. Of him or another? He didn’t care, he just loved looking at her. In a whoosh of air she was gone. Charlie heard her scream and then he was hitched up by his trousers and cast into the leafy air. He could see Loralie up ahead being flung about by invisible clutches, her tresses scattered in every direction. As soon as he caught sight of her he would be grabbed from behind and tossed again. He looked around as best he could. The trees. It was the trees throwing them up the mountainside, limb by limb. How could it be? They were being carried up he hill by the trees. A low rumbling came from the mighty oaks, the strain of moving, of hitching and hefting, as if their limbs would break.
    Charlie could hardly catch his breath, his thoughts tossed about as violently as his body. But he wondered, why were they being taken to the top of the hill? Who could command the trees to carry them and deliver them . . . where?
    Before Charlie could think he was thrust to the ground with a good whomp and rolled to a stop in front of a shiny pair of boots. He knew instantly who had brought them here, even before the stinking sour smell of cigar filled his nostrils.

    • susanmannix says:

      Oh my, Melissa…that was fantastic! I hope this is part of a WIP you have or soon will be. That had me on the edge of my seat and wanting more! And don’t worry about being late…the idea is to do the exercises and benefit from them – whenever that is! I apologize for not commenting sooner. Keep writing!!

    • Laura Bowers says:

      Whoa. Seriously fantastic, Melissa! AWESOME job! 🙂

  3. Larissa says:

    This was the incentive I needed to rework the final chapters of my fantasy WIP. The basic components were there, but I never felt like they were finished and I couldn’t get a handle on why I felt that way. I added more CONFLICT and really upped the emotional stakes and I’m loving my new ending. Thank you.

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