All Compelling Stories Contain This Secret Ingredient



Posted in: Writing

compelling stories image 1Is a scene in your novel boring you, so you just know it will bore your reader?

Or maybe you’re unhappy with a line of description or dialogue or characterization.

That’s good. It shows you’re thinking reader-first and realize all writing is rewriting. I still labor over every sentence, despite the decades I’ve been doing this.

This is what we do.

It happens to every writer.

That alarm that goes off in your head is crucial to your success, and it’s dangerous to ignore it.

Don’t try to convince yourself:

“Maybe my reader won’t find this boring…”

“Maybe it’s okay because action is coming soon…”

The fact is, your misgivings over your own prose are multiplied in your reader.

If you’re bored, your reader is asleep.

If you chuckle, your reader will howl.

If you choke up, your reader will weep. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

So, what’s the fix?

Believe it or not, you’ll find the secret by watching the news.

The Secret Ingredient in All Compelling Stories

Why do news shows air an overwhelming amount of bad news?

Because it sells—it intrigues us and makes us want to know more.

That should be encouraging to you if you’re a nonfiction writer. A fiction technique that can enliven your prose? Conflict.

That doesn’t mean your story can’t be upbeat and positive. Overcoming adversity and conflict is always a great theme. But the reader must see the downside to appreciate the payoff.

Whenever you feel too little is happening and your scene seems to lie flat, inject conflict, opposition. Nothing is more boring than characters agreeing with each other.

Conflict Is the Engine of Fiction

Maybe a character says, “This is a great day, and I’m happy to be here with you.”

Frankly, that’s the kind of conversation I like to start in real life, and I love it when the other person agrees. Avoid the temptation to let that happen in your writing.

Rather, have the other character respond, “Oh, sure. You’d say that.”

That’s certain to get your reader’s attention.

The other character can’t let that go. Where did it come from?  “Are you being sarcastic? Why would you say that?” And the conflict has been triggered.

I’d keep reading, wouldn’t you? Get them arguing and all of a sudden, people are turning the page to find out what’s going on.

There are myriad ways to inject conflict, so don’t hold back. The more you inject, the more compelling your story will be.

Make Your Reader Wonder What’s Going On

In real life we want peaceful, easy relationships. But conflict keeps us reading.

Tell me in the comments how you plan to inject conflict into your work-in-progress.

  • C.G Souche

    This was great! Thank you.

  • Alik Volkov

    One of the conflicts I would do is having an extremely untrustworthy character, and then she becomes more trustworthy, but she later betrays everyone.

    • Keep ’em guessing, Alik. I like it.

    • Often used in fiction, and a convention that hasn’t grown old. In many stories, the one person who could be trusted is the villain. I’ve seen it flipped, too: The one nobody trusts makes a huge sacrifice for the other characters.

  • Laine Kammeraad

    Mr Jenkins I have sent numerous emails to you and or your staff numerous times needing help. I bought several courses and have been unable to finish them. The first community I joined was shut down and moved to another place. It could possibly be this one. I was told I would be sent an email with my new password so I could finish my courses. This has been a frustrating process for me and would love for this to be resolved immediately please. Can someone please help me? I am so tired of not receiving the services I paid for in full by all these so called writers offering their services and their amazing so called books. I really believed this one was different

    • You may rest assured I personally guarantee your satisfaction. Someone from our team will be back to you soon. Sorry for your hassles.

      • Dave Fessenden

        That’s great customer service, Jerry! You didn’t argue or try to provide excuses, you just assured the customer that the problem would be fixed. Good move.

        • Thanks, Dave. Customer Service is not as complicated as too many make it. People want to be heard and understood and dealt with. I know I do.

          • Dave Fessenden

            That’s so true. I once “read” an audiobook on customer service, where the author started his first chapter with a story of his experience at an electronics store. He got the part he needed, walked over to the counter, and waited. (He was the only customer in the store.) One clerk ignored him; she was on the phone to her mother, complaining about her boyfriend. The other clerk was stacking boxes on shelves. When he asked for help, she told him to go to the ticket machine and get a number. His number was 44. After stacking the shelves for another FIVE minutes, the clerk walked over to the counter and called out, “41 . . . 42 . . . 43 . . . 44” (remember, he was the ONLY customer in the store!). “I’m 44,” he said. “May I help you?” she replied. By that time he was so angry that he tossed the part on the counter said, “No!” and walked out. Great story of how NOT to do customer service!

          • Amazing. My wife once asked for a certain title in a bookstore, and the clerk looked on the computer and said, “Nope! We don’t have it.”

            No offer to order it, no question about what else might be of help.

          • Yikes! How different from my experience at a book store. I was told, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have that in stock. I can order it for $X and it can be delivered to your home at no additional cost. I also see we have these other titles by the same author….” She went on to list the titles.

          • And, as they say, it’s not rocket surgery. :)

  • Theodore Frank

    Is this conflict deep enough? Here is a quote from my allegory in progress:

    I shut down emotionally right there.

    The issue of unfairness had been a huge festering sore. There were too many heartbreaking questions and no acceptable answers. I had stiff-armed Him before. I felt like stiff-arming Him now.

    I needed some air. I carelessly dropped the book that brought me to a fresh boil, left the room, and found myself on the porch. This visit to the lodge was over. I wished never to see Him again and stumbled my way into the darkness toward the stream and pathway that would take me home.

    • So the conflict is between the first-person narrator and God? Sure, it could be enough to carry a story, but it will be good to have others involved–the more people, the more conflict.

      You do seem to have a lot of needless words. I’d suggest this:

      I shut down emotionally.

      Unfairness had become a festering sore. Too many heartbreaking questions with no redeeming answers. I had stiff-armed Him before. I’d stiff-arm Him now.

      I needed air. I dropped the book that brought me to a fresh boil and found myself on the porch. This visit was over. I wished never to see Him again and stumbled into the darkness toward the stream and the pathway home.

      • Theodore Frank

        Yes, the conflict is between the first-person narrator and God in a secluded setting (like the wrestling match between Jacob and the Angel at Jabbok). I’m unsure how I could add other people into the conflict.

        The setting is a small wilderness lodge where I have gone to meet someone but am unaware of who it will be. Turns out, it’s an Archer mountain man (the Lord), who over the course of my visit, confronts me with issues like hurt, anger and partial obedience. It’s a tale of ‘character transformation’ that doesn’t come easy.

        Am open to all ideas. Thnx!

        • Maybe adding other people could be as simple as asking what another person in the protagonist’s life would say?

          • Theodore Frank

            Thnx, Bruce.
            Since I’m also an archer in the story, I could remember things my mentor said to me as I’m trying to get myself out of a messy situation in the woods. Great idea!

        • Sounds like a limited setting for a big idea, Theodore, and you might want to try to work more characters in. How will you handle rendering scenes they discuss? It’s always better to portray them onstage as opposed to just being analyzed later.

          • Theodore Frank

            I think you’re right, Jerry.
            Several hours ago, I decided to add antagonists. They peer through the windows of the lodge, and hound me when the Archer and I are out in the woods. They can be naysayers who try to turn me back from what the Archer is doing in my heart. Adding opposing dialogue will add to the conflict. Thnx for pushing!

          • Theodore Frank

            Hey Jerry,
            Can you give us a place to go for Christian Writer’s contests…..proven to be “scam free”? Thnx!

          • Theodore Frank

            Hey Jerry,
            Can you give us any Christian writer’s CONTESTS that are scam-free?

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            Google Free Christian Writers Contests. That will eliminate ones you have to pay to join (which isn’t always a bad thing–forinstance, if a contest charges a nominal fee to cover administrative costs–say $10 or so. Much more than that could prove that’s how they make their money.)

            I will not warn you away from any specific ones, but beware of those conducted by self-publishing concerns, as they are more interested in mining for customers than rewarding good writing. In those contests, there might be a winner and then everyone else is a finalist or runner-up or honorable mention–the point being to encourage the entrants and make them want to publish their stuff through the contest host.

            Of the first bunch that pop up, I can vouch for ACFW. You can’t go wrong there.

          • Theodore Frank

            Wow….thnx-a-bunch!!! That should keep me busy. Maybe other writers will also enjoy knowing this!

        • Charity Maher

          Thanks for the insight! It has given me some direction.

          • Theodore Frank

            You’re most welcome, Charity.
            Keep pluggin’ !

  • I always try to inflict as much conflict as possible, because that’s what I love to read! I try to think reader first, so when it comes to conflict I sit back and think of how much I could possibly fit into the story.
    My current WIP is a Christian scifi/dystopia, and the main conflict is that in scene one, a dying man sends my MC to the future, which is dystopian and has been taken over by one man, the antagonist. There’s a lot of conflict when he meets an underground group who doesn’t trust him, how he tries to blend in as one of them, and when he discovers his actual identity. I have a few conversations like the one you illustrated above, especially since one of the main supporters doesn’t like or trust my MC. I won’t say how it ends, but there’s a lot more conflict to come! Pretty much, easy is the last word I’d use to describe this WIP, considering the world he’s dropped into.

    • And that’s good, Reagan, because we must resist the temptation to make things easy on our main characters.

    • I love the way you used mistrust in “The Hidden Soul,” Reagan. It was part of what kept me reading.

  • Katie

    Awhile ago, I decided to retire a manuscript of mine because I didn’t like the way it was working out. Today, when I read that “Nothing is more boring than characters agreeing with each other.”, I realized a huge flaw in my story:

    I knew conflict was the so-called “key”, but almost all the conflict I put in my story was aimed toward the main character. Besides her, almost everyone were supportive, idealistic, happy people. (I added a bully to the story, but I eventually took her out.) How boring is that?

    I’ll probably leave that story alone, but hopefully I’ll remember the importance of inserting conflict from now on. Thanks, Jerry! :)

    • Thank you, Katie. And maybe keep that old story around in case you find time to get back to it.

      • Katie

        I do plan on keeping the story around. Who knows? Even if I never work on it again, maybe there’s a few gems I can to “reuse” for another project. Thanks for replying! :)

  • I know it is the right thing to write, but it is so hard for me to do. I write fiction for kids 7-11, (Missionary stories based on a real family living in Africa right now.) I want a good “moral to the story” or “go the the Bible” and “getting right with God and others” kind of ending. But….. I want the seven kids in my make believe story to all be NICE. I like things to happen to THEM, but it’s hard to have them be the instigators.
    Confession: The two (out of 11 stories so far) that the young readers liked the most WAS where the child caused the conflict. Sigh.

    • AliceFleury

      I’m going to reply and you can take this with a grain of salt. The child reading your story isn’t perfect. He thinks and does “bad” things. He wants to know how other children deal with the same feelings he has. He needs to know the child who caused the conflict is still loved and accepted by his friends and parents. We read stories to learn how to deal with life, even if they are fiction. This is my opinion, but it will give you something to think about. Reader first is what I’ve been told.

      • Good thoughts, Alice. Thank you. I’m sure that is why the two stories that had the kids showing bad behavior (jealousy, getting even, and being dishonest/lying) were the reader’s favorites. The protagonists both got called on their behavior, eventually were sorry and learned lessons.

    • You want seven kids to be nice? That IS a make-believe story. That’s why kids stories so often fail–the reader can’t identify with the perfect characters. When you’re real they get it. They can identify with kids who are pretty good but want to be better, who sometimes yield to temptation and fall, but who see the error of their way and get forgiven and reconciled.

      • I asked one of my young readers – a 9-year-old – (wise beyond her years in writing) – to give me some story ideas. She said, “There should be fighting. A family of seven kids should fight.” Ugh! Well I wrote it and others loved it. A second time I asked her for an idea she said, “Have one of them run away.” Yikes! I kind of did that (the boy sneaked in the back of the car to go on an adventure he wasn’t allowed to, and then got left behind because no one knew he’d come along). Another favorite with readers. You’d think I’d learn the lesson!

        • The more you push the envelope of your discomfort, the happier your readers will be.

        • It is okay to like your characters. It is not a good idea to be nice to them. No conflict = no story.

      • I’m a person who wants to be better, who sometimes yields to temptation and falls. Yes, I can identify with these characters at age 52.

  • R Frederick Riddle

    Excellent article. Conflict is one of the keys to attracting reader interest. I know when I read books I really get into the different conflicts. It just makes the book that much more interesting!

  • Carolyn

    My work in progress: Conflict on first page is that Julie feels called to mission work but her boyfriend doesn’t nor does he want her to go. Later, many conflicts on the mission field. But the overall question is whether or not Julie and her boyfriend’s relationship will survive the summer mission. What do you think? I am a member of the Guild.

    • It sounds a little thin for a novel, but if you REALLY establish how much she loves him and how great he is and they are together you’ll get your reader to invest in the dilemma too. He has to have a legitimate reason for opposing her–not just because he’s the villain or antagonist. Render it so readers are as torn as she is. She feels called and is going to obey. He’s going to resist hard. I’d keep reading.

      • Perhaps he feels called to do something else? Not everyone is “called” to a traditional ministry. He could just as easily be called to be an advertising executive. Now the stakes are high. Is God calling them to be apart from each other?

  • patrick brunson

    I print out every handout and go through my story (How to become a ferocious self editor, state of being verb, etc.) page by page. Then every two weeks at my writers’ group I read or slide a page to another writer. Because I chuckled, I wait for the howl. Starting tonight I am going back through making sure each section has some conflict and cut out those that don’t. With 240 pages, it wont be tonight.

  • Caroline Sciriha

    I totally agree. But can there be too much conflict? I suspect that piling up setback after setback might be sinking my story arc quicker than the Titanic!

    • Sure, Caroline, one could push the envelope so far that it becomes ludicrous. Fiction must be believable. However, if you’re going to err, err on the side of too much rather than too little. Just be sure the complications escalate and make sense–not come as the result of coincidence or luck or without foundation.

      If your character is racing to a destination or away from danger, she can run in traffic, trip and fall, sprain an ankle. Standing in line to buy an umbrella to serve as a makeshift crutch, she sees her pursuer a block and a half away. She gives more than enough money to the man in front of her in line and tells him to pay for the umbrella and keep the change.

      She hobbles away, only to be pursued by store security when the man runs off with her money and

  • Amanda Perry

    i have just added another dimension to one of my characters by giving him a back story of conflict in Syria which can be woven into my main story . The News has certainly prompted me to push my story deeper.

  • As always, excellent advice Jerry.

  • Charity Maher

    Can there be too much conflict?

    • Sure, Charity, one could push the envelope so far that it becomes ludicrous. Fiction must be believable. However, if you’re going to err, err on the side of too much rather than too little. Just be sure the complications escalate and make sense–not come as the result of coincidence or luck or without foundation.

      • Just keep adding conflict until you reach that ludicrous point. Then take one element of the conflict away.

  • Charity Maher

    I want to write a novel based on my life. The turbulence I endured IS unbelievable. But I have learned a whole lot about dealing with shame, grief, regrets, broken relationships, grief-stricken children, fire, being true to my convictions, and so much more. I’m loving all the great helps I’m getting from you and your guests! THANK YOU! I couldn’t spend much time here for a while because I had a deadline to meet but now I’m going to focus on improving my skills for a couple of months!

    • Good to have you, Charity. Is there a reason your book would be fiction and not a memoir. If fiction, people might dismiss it.

      • Charity Maher

        It could be a life story, but I’m not sure I want to name names when I delve into the conflicts. Is there a way to get around this? My ministry goal is to encourage others who have experienced an abusive relationship and to affirm their own pain plus smash some of the preconceptions of an “obedient” wife.

  • Kevin Barton

    This is good. Life is a mess. And if it isn’t, it soon will be. That’s what occurred to me. Unless you live in a box, conflict comes knocking at the door with little effort from ourselves. We all know the thing – a bill arrives, a bad news phone call, somebody cuts you up on the road. I took all this and amplified it ten fold for my own novel. Most of my characters just move from one crisis to the next with not much let up in between. I’m not the best writer in the world a mile. I’d say I write pulp horror if you wanted to label it. However, I am staggered by the amount of people who thinks it’s a great book. Looking back, there are a few clunky cogs in there that need oil – and (I’m sorry to say) some typographical gaffes.

    No one seems to have noticed this. My readers are not critics, they just want to be entertained. It seems I’ve managed to get that engine running fine. I’m certain it’s because of the constant crisis my characters face. Call it grim? Maybe. It’s a skewed view of the world, which seems to hit people where they live. Like the news, it omits most of the good stuff going on.

  • No conflict = no story. All of fiction is conflict and struggle. Even that comedy that made you laugh so hard your sides hurt.

    After reading this article, I discovered a new opportunity for conflict in my WIP. My protagonist, Akiko, has a love interest, Tommy. When Akiko is forced to flee her home, Tommy becomes a sidekick in absentia. They call each other from time to time, and Tommy provides support and encouragement for Akiko. I now feel there must come a moment in which they have conflict. I already have a scene in which Akiko tells Tommy he should date others and not wait for her. But I need to add another scene. Although this story is not a romance, the vast majority of romance stories have a break-up scene. I need one of those.

  • Linda Jewell

    Hi Jerry, after reading your post, I analyzed one of my short stories in progress. These are some ways I include conflict:

    • Backstory¬–The main character, Victoria, has a history of being left behind by those she loves. When she was a child, her military father, whom she adored, often deployed to war zones or traveled on unaccompanied tours of duty. Years later, after she’d worked to put her husband Scott though law school, he left Victoria and their daughter Ashley for Crystal, one of his young, rich clients.

    • Characters’ choices and reactions–In the story, Victoria will feel abandoned–again–when Ashley choses to appeal to Scott and then move hundreds of miles away to live with him and Crystal.

    • Working title–“Left Behind—Again.” (☺ What can I say. It captures the essence of the story.)

    • Characters who see the world through the lens of different personalities–Victoria’s personality is low-keyed, but she’s also a determined single mom. I gave her a strong-willed, eye-rolling, teenage daughter. Victoria is also aggravated whenever Ashley’s actions and attitudes trigger irritating memories of steamroller Scott.

    • Characters with different body clocks–Victoria is a night owl and Ashley is an early bird.

    • Characters who don’t respect each other’s different bents and strengths–Victoria is fluent in several languages and makes her living as an interpreter, but she struggles with math, budgets, and reconciling her checkbook. Ashley already has her own babysitting and tutoring business and listens to stock market reports.

    • Characters who hold conflicting values–Victoria believes education is important and she is willing to sacrifice for Ashley to attend a private school. These sacrifices include using public transportation instead of owning a vehicle and living in a small apartment. Ashley doesn’t appreciate her mom’s sacrifices, and would rather go to a public school if that meant she could learn how to drive and have access to a family car. Victoria takes on extra work so she can pay private school tuition. Ashley wants to know why her mother can’t use some of the child support to replace a broken smart phone. Victoria wants to teach Ashley to value a simple life with fewer but quality pieces of clothing, artwork, and furnishings, while Ashley wants the life her successful-lawyer father can provide including a big house, her own car, and closets full of trendy clothes like those owned by her young stepmother.

    • Feelings of pride, loss, and unfairness–Victoria is proud of the home she’s made for Ashley and herself. She lost her husband to another woman, and she doesn’t want to lose her daughter to her. “Crystal got my husband. She’s not going to get my daughter too.”

    Because I’ve been studying the Guild material, when I analyzed this story I noticed I need to eliminate a page of throat clearing (from Lessons 5–“Nailing Your First Five Pages” and Lesson 9–“Secrets to Grabbing Your Reader From the Get-Go”). I also need to tighten and weave in some of the main character’s backstory throughout this short story (thank you for the Master Class with DiAnn Mills), swap some telling for showing (from Workshop 4–”Show, Don’t Tell”), and self edit and tighten my writing (from all of the Manuscript Repair and Rewrite sessions). Thank you for your commitment to giving Guild members value-packed training, honest feedback, and examples of how to ferociously self edit so we can apply the same principles to our own writing. When I start to self-edit, I now say to myself, “What would Jerry do?” ☺

    • Ha! Even the ubiquitous bracelets would work! :)

      Your female character names all have a period piece romance feel to them. Should one of them be more pedestrian? (Just a thought.)

      And as for the title, unfortunately it might be misunderstood because we sort of ruined the market for it. Some may wonder at first if it has something to do with revisiting the series or the subject. Maybe go to Abandoned—Again or Left—Again or Alone—Again.

      • Linda Jewell

        Thanks for the feedback on the character names. I’ll dig through social security’s baby name web site by year and come up with something that feels less period piece romance. I’ll also brainstorm other titles. :)

  • Sandra Felton

    My genre, self-help organization for the chronically disorganized, comes with built-in conflict. We start out believing disorganization itself is the enemy defeating us daily. Eventually we realize that we ourselves are the enemy and the only way to win the clutter war in our house and way of life is to make significant changes in how we think and feel in relation to organizing.

    Now, that’s real conflict! In my books I refer to my own struggle and how I overcame. I take the problem home to the reader by suggesting applications to their situation and by telling anecdotal stories how others like them found the relief they sought.

    You asked about our present project. At this time I am writing a book about paper management and filing. There is a boring topic if ever I saw one. But a lot of hurting people are drowning in what to do with all of the papers we all must try to manage daily. My co-author and I have found that by focusing on realistic tormenting problems and practical solutions through stories and application, even a tedious topic can become interesting.

    All of my self-help books have three invisible sections: I feel your pain; here is the solution; you can do it! (In some ways the information above applies to my most recently published book, The Little Girl’s Tales, That is a book of short insightful fairy tales for grown-ups. It is interesting to note that all fairy tales are conflict driven so little children will get some clues about how to successfully get to “happily ever after.”)

  • Kim Armstrong

    Great article. This info should spice up my bland non-fiction.

  • Charlotte Wheat

    Jerry, thanks for the many ways you bless my writing. I plan to use dialogue, actions of my characters and brooding, mulling crowds shouting, pushing, shoving and brandishing weapons against one another to show conflict. Plus any other way I can wring out of my God given creative brain.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, Charlotte.

  • Greg Turnquist

    I try on every chapter to drive up the stakes. Sometimes I have ideas throughout the day like “what if this happened to James?” Or “what if that happened to Clarel?” And I realize it’s another way to drive more tension. Put it in!

    We had a writer’s prompt at our critique group to imagine our main character doing the opposite of their nature. I’m fitting it in!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great. Greg!

  • Brian

    I doubt my story ideas a lot deeming them inferior compared to my favorite writers. I stopped mid-way on a current draft of a story I’ve started because I felt the story idea wasn’t up to snuff. Being discouraged at this I thought about throwing in the towel and quitting writing altogether. But something in me needs to write, to tell a story, but it’s in the execution of the story in my head which is where I fail. I have an idea for a story yet again I find it pretty inadequate, again compared to my favorite writers. I’m not too comfortable revealing the plot idea I currently have in my head but I find it pretty inferior

  • Brian

    I doubt my story ideas a lot deeming them inferior compared to my favorite writers. I stopped mid-way on a current draft of a story I’ve started because I felt the story idea wasn’t up to snuff. Being discouraged at this I thought about throwing in the towel and quitting writing altogether. But something in me needs to write, to tell a story, but it’s in executing the story that I have in my head is where I fail. I have an idea for a story yet again I find it pretty inadequate, again compared to my favorite writers. Here’s the gist of the short story (it’s set in the 1930s): Little Mr. Phipps carries on a tryst with another man’s wife. Brimming with passion he desires to murder her husband. He hires a hitman, but unbeknownst to him, this same hitman is hired to murder Mr. Phipps by the same husband whose wife is unfaithful. I thought about calling it “The Highest Bidder”.


    I love your communication style Jerry! Writing my memoir ~ this is important to include and I can do so honestly because there WAS plenty of conflict in my life both externally and internally:) Thank you!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, Nattolie.

  • Elizabeth Herendon Dyer

    Unfortunately, some people want conflict in real life, too. On the opposite side, I have found too much conflict can take a work into unbelievable….. No ones has that much bad luck ;-)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      True, and I have bordered on that a few times myself (not in real life; in books). Just be careful not to make things too easy for your hero. :)

  • MofPennsy

    It feels difficult to inject conflict when you want to send readers to unusual/interesting places…maybe Tolkien’s techniques: The Unknown with some skittish and ill-prepared characters…

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You may be misunderstanding our broad definition of conflict. It doesn’t have to mean arguing, fighting, strife, etc. (although those certainly fall under the broad definition). The conflict that drives fiction and keeps people turning pages is ANY kind of set up and payoff. Anticipating a date=conflict. The character and the reader are eager to see how it goes and what comes of it. Anticipating a test, a meeting, a reunion–really anything=conflict in the form of tension. Whatever it takes to compel the reader to stay with you.

      • MofPennsy

        yes, I get the feeling that many people talk about a story engine running by Emotion (and negative is stronger)–like melodrama or the action part of a Transformers movie…

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          I wouldn’t call Emotion or Action the engine but more elements that help round out the story. Conflict is the engine.

  • Robin Melay Pizzo

    I enjoyed listening to your live training this past week. However I was multitasking as most moms and wives must do and didn’t realize Hunter Branch, your customer service specialist requested I send my question another way. Here is it again. This is in relation to your “trouble” suggestion. Thank you for your time and response.

    My novel’s POV alternates between the main character’s struggle to escape a life influenced by her mother’s drug use, and a group of women who have formed an alternative incarceration program. When Apryl’s decision to become a drug dealer to support her dreams, further jeopardizes her survival and freedom; the women of Saving Our Sisters intervene and their lives and mission collide. Does the secondary characters’s conflicts or “troubles” need to be as intense as the main character’s to keep the reader captivated? I’m worried that Apryl’s storyline is more engaging because of all of the ‘trouble’. Should there be a balance?

    • Sorry this one slipped through the cracks, Robin.

      So your main character is the daughter. Is Apryl her mother? Do you switch POVs between the two of them? It doesn’t sound feasible to have a group of women be a perspective character.

      The troubles can be different between the two, but be sure to have a lot of set-ups and payoffs for each. One will be more dramatic, sure, so your job will be to make the other’s story just as compelling in its own way.