More Character Conflicts — Where Are Their Boundaries?

This changes things. 

I’m not a deeply intentional fiction writer. Mostly, I want something I can read aloud. The pacing and characters are based on my ability to act out the parts and read the descriptions of the sword fights. Chapters have a target of 3,400 words about 20-25 minutes for me.

(And no, I don’t use speech-to-text dictation tools. I’m also a non-fiction writer, and that’s very traditional finger-to-keyboard.)

Today I saw some writerly advice that opened my eyes to more intentional writing.

Plus this, which is more-or-less the gold standard:

While searching for related advice, I found some other tweets including the following. These feel a little less compelling to me.

  • What does your character want? What do they actually need? This essentially is the conflict.
  • What does your character want? What happens if they don’t get it? Follow-up question: do they get it by the end of the story?

This leaves me with a new question as part of a revision pass: “What would they never do?” I like the idea of exploration to begin with, and this sets out bright lines a character has to cross to commence and complete their journey.

When we look at the three-stage hero’s journey, there are two bright-line boundaries:

  1. A hero often refuses the quest. This establishes what they would never do.
  2. A hero may refuse to return to their original world. This means that the quest establishes a new bright line for something new they would never do, now that they’ve received the “ultimate boon.”

The ultimate boon is often guarded by a variety of “trials”. There are six steps within the Initiation stage of the journey. One is the “road of trials”, four are specific kinds of trials (Love, Temptation, Reconciliation, Apotheosis.) I don’t think these can be the same kind of bright line things the MC would never do. Crossing too many boundaries dilutes the drama of making the crossing.


Rereading the I *finally* started studying the three paragraph pitches for each series. Each, of course, is either finely-polished marketing or a quote from the book, depending on the book’s place in the #EpicFantasy canon.

This changes things.

I’ve got to revisit the Mage and be sure it’s clear where their boundaries are and why the Red Knight’s offer is almost antithetical. Then I can redo my query a few dozen more times and pick the best of those. New queries will go out in a few weeks.

 © F. L. Stevens 2019