Build rising action scenes around conflict

Anytime you’re writing a scene in the story’s rising action, you’ll want to treat it as a short story in and of itself. That means focusing on conflict.

All too often when editing such scenes for my clients, I find that it’s written a bit too much like first-they-did-this-then-they-did-that, focusing a lot on the setting and the reason for the story to occur at that location. For example, perhaps in a story is about a couple having difficulties in their marriage the scenes would unfold as “couple must sign a house title, so they are at the title office; next, they go home, so they are at their new home.” Such scenes will read very slowly and if kept up will send the reader to another book with a quicker pace.

Instead, always think conflict-conflict-conflict. Before writing, ask yourself: What is the scene’s primary conflict? What is the best way for characters to experience this conflict? And where is the best place for this conflict to be experienced?

As drafting, the writer could start the scene by asking what is the central problem the husband faces in it. Perhaps it’s growing tension with his wife because of his discomfort that she is making decisions without him. Infer that conflict immediately to the reader, right in the opening sentence.

Next, think of the rest of the scene in terms of how can the husband overcome that central problem, that is, how can he dampen the tension. So he tries to do that. It helps a little. But the wife does something or he sees something she’s done that upsets him without his input, and he’s back to square one.

So the husband tries again, in a different way. Except maybe this time the wife is still upset about him just getting angry with her. So the tension increases; maybe harsh words are exchanged. Then she takes a deep breath, realizes she’s losing her temper and stops. She tries to make up. But the harsh words still sting for the husband, and despite the opportunity to make up, he won’t.

Now something occurs that brings delight individually to both husband and wife. He notices this, decides to try again at decreasing the tension. It works. They apologize to one another, mutually decide to put behind them the harsh words they exchanged, to make decisions together. The husband feels as if he knows what he has to do to make this work. The scene appears to end well.

But at the very end, give just a hint of the wife doing something that annoys the husband, hinting that their problems aren’t really over. After all, if all ends rosy, there’s no need to have another scene or chapter.

The conflict need not make the characters sound like a jerk (husband) or a bitch (wife). They want to get along but don’t know how (Perhaps because they don’t realize that their own inner flaws are getting in the way). When they figure out the latter in the story, they’ll get along and the conflict will be resolved.

Related articles:
• General guidelines for constructing a scene in a story
• Ways a main character can try but fail to resolve a central problem