I’m pleased to welcome fellow new mom and author Kimberly G. Giarrantano, who is celebrating the release of her YA mystery Grunge Gods and Graveyards. Kimberly is offering up some thoughts on creating conflict in stories and a giveaway. Welcome, Kimberly and congrats on your new book and baby!
by Kimberly G. Giarrantano
Being that my debut novel, Grunge Gods and Graveyards, is set in 1996, I couldn’t help but give this guest post a 90s song title. “Everybody Hurts” isn’t just the name of an awesome REM song, not to mention memorable video, but the secret to incorporating excellent conflict into one’s writing — make everybody hurt. More specifically, make your protagonist hurt.
Conflict is one of the most important, if not the most important, building blocks of novel writing. And yet, so many new writers, myself included, forget about it. So, what is conflict? Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces. It’s what moves the story forward. There are characters who drive plot, but conflict drives those characters to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Desperate times and all that.
So, how do I create conflict?
I take my main character and dump crap all over her. In every scene. That’s my formula.
It’s not enough that Lainey feels like she is directly responsible for getting Danny killed. She then goes back to school to find the entire senior class thinks the same thing and they hate her for it. The mean girls dump their spaghetti lunch on her. The jocks label her a murderer. She failed Spanish and won’t graduate. Her dad ignores her. The love of her life is dead. It’s always something. I’m the puppet master and she’s my puppet and I do something to her in every scene. Because each piece of crap dumped on her pushes Lainey to do something else. And because each awful thing brings her to a breaking point. She must say to herself: am I going to continue to let life screw with me or am I going to fix it somehow?
It can never be just one thing. Lainey failed Spanish AND is in danger of not graduating the hellscape she knows as high school AND she needs to write a major research paper to graduate AND deliver an oral presentation in Spanish AND she sucks at languages AND her Spanish tutor is the boy she loved who died in her arms.
I also like to burden Lainey with setbacks. Just when Lainey is close to figuring things out, someone (a nemesis perhaps) interferes and screws it all up for her. And the reader keeps turning pages to find out how Lainey is going to pull it all off. Now, with every setback there has to be small successes too otherwise it would be a downer of a book. All that suffering can’t be in vain.
I guess my story board might look something like this:
Still crappy, but handles it
We Shall Overcome
Now humor me and leave the name of your favorite REM song in the comments section. I’ll go first. My fave REM song is “Leave.”
Grunge Gods and Graveyards blurb:
Parted by death. Tethered by love.
Lainey Bloom’s high school senior year is a complete disaster. The popular clique, led by mean girl Wynter Woods, bullies her constantly. The principal threatens not to let her graduate with the class of 1997 unless she completes a major research project. And everyone blames her for the death of Wynter’s boyfriend, Danny Obregon.
Danny, a gorgeous musician, stole Lainey’s heart when he stole a kiss at a concert. But a week later, he was run down on a dangerous stretch of road. When he dies in her arms, she fears she’ll never know if he really would have broken up with Wynter to be with her.
Then his ghost shows up, begging her to solve his murder. Horrified by the dismal fate that awaits him if he never crosses over, Lainey seeks the dark truth amidst small town secrets, family strife, and divided loyalties. But every step she takes toward discovering what really happened the night Danny died pulls her further away from the beautiful boy she can never touch again.
Kimberly G. Giarratano, a forever Jersey girl, now lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and small children. A former teacher and YA librarian, Kimberly adores Etsy, Jon Stewart, The Afghan Whigs, ’90s nostalgia, and (of course) everything YA. She also speaks Spanish, but is woefully out of practice.
Kimberly always dreamed of being a published author. Her other dream is to live in Key West, Florida where she can write in a small studio, just like Hemingway.