One Writer’s Journey

April 4, 2018

Conflict: Do All 4 Kinds Belong in Children’s Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:13 am

Yesterday I read Karen Ann Lefkowitz Writer’s Digest blog piece on the four types of conflict.  Of course, since I most often write for young readers, I immediately found myself wondering if all four types of conflict work in books for younger audiences.

Protagonist vs Self

At first, I wondered if this would work for young readers of all ages but then I started thinking that it really is incredibly common even in picture books.  In After the FallDan Santat’s Humpty Dumpty has to overcome his fear in order to soar.  Whenever a picture book character has to overcome a fear or learn a new skill in order to succeed the conflict is protagonist vs. self. Not surprisingly, it is also a common form of conflict for older readers, even in graphic novels such as Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.  Characters finding themselves can be found in fiction for all ages.

Protagonist vs Antagonist  

It wasn’t hard to come up with examples for this at the middle grade and young adult level – Harry Potter, Greenglass House, etc.  But it got trickier at the picture book level.  Beatrix Potter pulled it off and antagonists/wolves are lurking in the dark corners of fairy tales.  But antagonists seem to be much more common in older books.


Protagonist vs Supernatural 

Not sure that this can work for young readers?  The key is finding a way to make it age appropriate as in Aaron Reynolds’s picture book Creepy Pair of UnderwearThe Last Kids on Earth. Books for slightly older readers can go with scarier supernatural beings such as Max Brallier’s early middle grade  which is all about zombies.  It works because it is light-hearted and funny.  I know, I know.  Read it and you’ll see what I mean.

Protagonist vs the Environment

It probably isn’t going to take long to come up with a teen vs the environment book – Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner.  I have to admit that I couldn’t come up with anything in print where it is a preschooler vs the weather but it should be doable.  Again, think age appropriate.  Kid vs the rainy day.  Kid vs snow day when it means missing a great field trip.

Obviously weather situations and antagonists would have to be age appropriate.  Would their rarity be a good selling point or is it something publishers just aren’t interested in? This is definitely something I’m going to keep noodling over.




February 18, 2015

Conflict: Age matters

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
Tags: , , ,

age appropriate conflictI recently read a post by agent Scott Eagan on the differences between Conflict and Complications.  The problem is that many of the manuscripts Eagan recieves are full of complications for the characters but not true conflict.  Yes, hitting traffic or having to change clothes before you leave the house can be a hastle but they are complications.  Your character can get around these things fairly easily.  You reader isn’t on the edge of her seat wondering “Is this it?

This got me to thinking.  Things don’t work quite like this in children’s books.  Complications vs true conflict depend completely on the age of the reader and, thus, the character.

What do I mean?  Having your main character take a wrong turn on the way home from school is no big whoop-de-doo for a highschooler.  All the reader’s going to think is “get your head together and turn around, dumby.”

But if your character and reader are picture book aged, its a completely different situation.  In Kevin Henkes picture book Sheila Rae, The Brave, Sheila Rae gets lost.  Her little sister comes to her rescue and the two become closer for it.  That wouldn’t work if your character was a typical high schooler, but it works quite well for a preschooler who has never walked home alone.

In children’s books, your conflict has to be age appropriate.  Make it to old for the character and reader and you  may find your five year-old character trying to save the world from an evil wizard who is killing those who won’t join his cause (hello, Harry Potter).

Whoa! That’s way too much for this audience.  But a highschooler who is overwhelmed by her new backpack, purse or boots is going to make a pretty boring story even if Kevin Henkes made this also fly in picture book form.

Conflict vs. Complication.  To make it work, you have to make it age appropriate.


June 28, 2012

Internal Conflict vs External Conflict

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:23 am
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What type of conflict keeps your story moving forward?  Internal or external?

External conflict is often the stuff of plot driven stories — your character has to battle an antagonist or accomplish an amazing physical feat.  Harry Potter battling Voldemort?  External.  Katniss surviving the games and her fellow tributes?  External.  Sophie trying to avoid the outgoing Wendell (A Weekend with Wendell by Kevin Henkes)?   Still external.

External conflict is exciting.  It keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Internal conflict may be seen in the outside world, but it is the stuff of inner turmoil.  What are the thoughts that keep your character up at night?  What does she obsess about?  What hang ups are keeping him from succeeding?  Harry Potter’s angst over his parents’ sacrifice?  Internal.  Katniss emotional battle over being in the Games with her friend Peeta (the rules say only one can survive)?  Internal.  Sophie’s issues with her own timid behavior?  Internal.

Internal conflict is frequently what you reader most identifies with because they have similar issues and insecurities.

Which one features most heavily in your current work-in-progress?  Could you (or should you) try to shift the balance between internal and external conflict?  How would it change your story?



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