Stories should have conflict.

Today’s blog was sparked by a tweet from Kev St John (@Kev_away)

He had given his work in progress to a Beta Reader who didn’t like one character because she wasn’t a good friend. He couldn’t believe this response.

This character is supposed to be a bad friend. That was the point.

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I had a similar response to a character cheating on his partner.

The Beta Reader said people wouldn’t like this character. Of course I didn’t change this part of the story. It highlights that the character who is being cheated on, has a bad relationship. It’s conflict. That’s what stories are made of.

I think this misunderstanding of what storytelling is about comes from certain readers. Several smaller American publishers go to great lengths to itemise what’s in a book, including normal story conventions like adultery.

As an Australian, I don’t get it.

It’s the equivalent of buying take away coffee and seeing WARNING – HOT CONTENTS on the lid. It’s unnecessary.

As adults, we expect to be surprised and challenged by what we read. If we already know what to expect in a book, then why read it?  The same goes for any art form. I spent years enjoying the television program, Masters of Sex, as it explored the pain, joy and everything in between of many relationships, including an adulterous one.

But I’m a grown up. I know about life.

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This fear of story has also come up in reviews to books.

I released a Romance novella, Midnight Angel, over the holiday period and was surprised to see the first two Goodreads reviewers, who loved the book, give the whole plot away. While I appreciated their high scores, I wondered why they did this without saying there was a spoiler alert. Why would anyone want to read the book when they know the whole plot?

Similarly, my Nate and Cameron series of books are about a man learning to love second best. Traditional Romance readers were split in their reviews. They either loved or hated the books.

One reviewer freaked out because there was an unforeseen twist in the plot.

And she had no problem criticising me for adding something non-conventional to a Romance story. She went on to tell me that the book should have been categorised differently. Seriously?

This is a century where powerful tales will need to be told. And the last thing we need are readers scared of tales that open them up to new concepts just because they want safe stories.

6 Replies to “Stories should have conflict.”

  1. Interesting article. I find it strange that some people who put themselves forward as Beta Readers, and therefore read different stories for a living, as so dull in their tastes that they can’t handle anything less than perfect. Being gay isn’t all rainbows and rimjobs, and to pretend otherwise is irresponsible as much as anything.

  2. This post drudged up a tiresome number of writing-related discussions from the past year in my mind. Are people too sensitive? Are grittier or more realistic stories at a disadvantage? Are there “bad readers”? What’s the meaning of “adult fiction”? What’s an appropriate balance between surprises and common tropes? Chatter chatter chatter. At some point, varying by the discussion setting, certain insults get thrown at a few participating writers by the others.
    I tried a few times to leave a comment but ended up with a blog post about what bothered me the most. The gist is that when beta readers do what they’re expected to do, they’re expecting the author to be mature enough to handle the feedback.
    No one book is meant for everyone in the market.

    1. Don’t get me wrong, my beta reader actually gave me some great advice which I used in the novel, but critiquing conventions that are part of many tales that have already been told just doesn’t make sense.

      Even the critic that gave a major plot change away in my romance novel actually complained about a plot twist that I’ve seen many times use before.

  3. Indeed — if there’s nothing or no one to dislike in a story, boredom will quickly set in! People abhor Damon Barrett in my scifi novel/s… to the extent I’ve had a few readers say they wished his POV was left out completely. But I’m stoked that they hate him! Because that was the desired effect, so his arc in Book II is more meaningful as a result of our frustrations with what a horrible person he’s been. Perfect relationships and flawless characters have no where to go.

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