Monday, September 7, 2009


Paysage sous la pluie avec un chemin, des promeneurs et des arbres-polcassel1892-1945 Mysteries are full of conflict. It’s a good versus evil struggle with internal and external conflicts abounding.

Most novels, in fact, are heavy on conflict. Otherwise, it’s a dull book. Even if the scene’s conflict is a monkey-wrench thrown in a character’s carefully planned day, that’s conflict.

External conflict is everywhere. It’s on the evening news, it’s happening during raucous PTA meetings and toddler playgroups. I’m a person who doesn’t like making waves and doesn’t like being involved in conflicts. But I don’t mind observing them as a third party.

I was in a shipping center the other day to mail off a package. A radio was playing the news in the background and the sad story of the girl who’d been kidnapped and held hostage for so many years came on.

The owner, who wasn’t originally from the US, said loudly, “This is disgusting! Do you want to know what’s wrong with America?”

The people in the line were politely pretending that they didn’t hear him and all began messing with their cell phones. I cleared my throat. “I do,” I said. “I want to know what’s wrong with America.”

There was a collective groan behind me. But come on. Great way of finding out what bugs people. What bugs people in their everyday, ordinary life provides wonderful conflict for someone like me.

In the kind of books I write, the things that just get under your skin may end up in a mysterious death.

The guy at the shipping center was delighted to launch into a rambling monologue of American ills. It was extremely educational and might be used for future material. :) On the downside, I think my fellow customers were about ready to string me up at the end of his discourse.

I get lots of other material from the local news…the more local, the better. In fact, if there was a subdivision newsletter, that might provide even more ideas for plot conflict.

Conflicts I’ve observed in local news include:

*Land disputes *Irritating, obnoxious neighbors *Long-time family feuds *Church schisms *Teenagers with too much family money and not enough sense *Fraudulent financial planners *People furious at real estate developers *People furious at the local school board for changing zoning *A man who has a sign posted, saying, “The Town of Matthews Stole my Farm." (An eminent domain issue.)

Really, the newspaper is a treasure trove of ideas for plot conflict, especially for mystery writers. There’s certainly lots of other conflict out there, but again, I won’t touch a friend’s personal problems.

But conflict makes the plot go ‘round for fiction writers. And, luckily for us, inspiration is everywhere.