Musing About Conflict

I was going to sit down and write a book review this afternoon, but instead, my thoughts about the YA book in question are prompting a semi-philosophical post about conflict in fiction.

Let me give you a brief scenario. In the novel in question, the heroine doesn’t want the life that is proscribed for girls in her time period. She runs away and basically achieves her goal of an alternate life by masquerading as a boy in the very first chapter. The rest of the story is filled with interesting characters (some of whom have conflicts with the protagonist), exotic locations, and once-in-a lifetime adventures. In spite of all that, the first half of the book felt flat to me because there was no overarching tension, no big goal or conflict driving the story from episode to episode. The protagonist got what she wanted in the first chapter and she keeps telling herself how lucky she is.

Am I being too critical? Do you think it’s necessary to have a big conflict driving the story if there are a plenty of little conflicts and adventures along the way?

I should mention that eventually the overarching narrative does develop a big-picture conflict because the heroine begins to fear that her secret will be discovered—an event that would be doubly disastrous because she has fallen in love with one of her companions and knows he will feel betrayed when he learns that she has deceived him for so long. Once I got to the second half of the book, I was much more invested.

I just wonder if my expectations for the beginning were reasonable. I promised the author I’d write a review on Amazon (and I’ve told her of my concerns), but then I began to wonder if I were being too harsh. I’d love to hear what you all think either as readers or writers or both.



Filed under Writing

10 responses to “Musing About Conflict

  1. I read a great deal of literary fiction and historical fiction instead of genre fiction. Often, the is no major conflict or great tension reveal immediately, but a more subtle message to be obtained from the passages. I think popular fiction forces us to believe that is how all literature should be, action packed from the beginning, but it is certainly NOT how many of the best classics were written. I would mention it, but I don’t think I would knock off points because of it. I only knock off points when there is something about the novel that I think those I am recommending or not recommending to would have serious issue with. But that’s just me. your opinion is always a worthy one.

    • I know what you mean—I majored in literature and still read literary fiction—but that’s not what this book is trying to do. It’s a young adult novel billed as an adventure story, so that’s where my expectation came from. I still liked it well enough so that I’ll give it a fair review.

      • If it’s billed as an adventure story and does not START with adventure, then you have a problem.

      • I didn’t say that. The adventure starts right away, but that’s actually part of the problem. For several chapters, the main character’s attitude is “Life is wonderful. I got what I want” and there’s little ominous hint that she won’t stay that happy. That was the problem I was talking about. It takes a long time for an overarching conflict for her to develop. But as I said in my reply to Linnea, I want to skim it again and see if maybe it was just me as a reader, since I wasn’t at my best when I read it.

  2. To my mind, as long as there is sustained tension in the possibility of real danger to her if she’s caught then I’d be okay with it. If, however, the writer hasn’t done that then I’d probably feel let down too.

    • I didn’t feel that tension very strongly in the beginning of the novel. The emphasis I picked up was much more about how lucky the protagonist felt she was. I might go back and skim the beginning before I write my review to test my impression. I read it when I was dealing with radiation fatigue, so I want to make sure it wasn’t just me.

  3. I like having a global “objective” so I always question what the story is about. I understand how you feel. There has to be something driving the plot, but with the supposed goal already met, there now has to be a counter-productive climax, something to show that the initial goal wasn’t “really” what the protagonist thought was her end goal, but that her end goal turns out to be she evolves emotionally and substantially to realize it was something entirely different she needed.

    Hope that makes sense.

  4. I think people crave conflict, and story demands it, but the LEVEL of conflict is a matter of personal preference. On one hand, the “escape the life I’m ‘supposed’ to have” trope is a relateable one, and the masquerading as a boy thing could be fraught with “what if I get caught?”

    In a way, it seems as though perhaps the story starts a bit early, and you’re waiting too long for the “real” conflict in the novel to kick off.

    • Hi Jen. I wouldn’t say this story starts too early. My guess is that all it needed was to have some real danger of discovery early on, which would then stick with the reader throughout. I’m still mulling over the whole question.

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