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Writing Professionalism: Resolving Conflict with Clients

When working with clients, a service provider should always be prepared to handle conflict. Even with clients who are easy to work with, some small conflicts might arise which can slow progress. Significant conflicts threaten the completion and success of a project if not handled in a professional manner.

Assessing Points of Conflict

First, determine if the point of conflict necessitates a full discussion. Some issues which arise with clients are not worth the emotional/mental energy and time to debate. These are often preference items that will not affect the success of the project.

Examples may include a character name or setting you do not like. If it does not negatively impact the story and is simply your preferences not matching, remind yourself that the client’s desire takes precedence and move forward. Arguing will come off as antagonistic and unprofessional.

If the issue is likely to upset the client and will not negatively impact the project if not addressed, accept their preference and proceed to work with their preferences to the best of your ability. This shows respect and validates their ideas.

Examples may include the client having an emotional connection to a story and wanting it told in a specific way, even if that is not how you would typically write it.

Use the Right Nonverbal Cues

This is especially important if you do not have the benefit of face-to-face interactions with a client. Tone and attitude can still be conveyed in written communication and it is important to be aware of how your words are perceived by the client.

Short choppy sentences come off as brusque and formal, and can make a client feel as though they aren’t be spoken to respectfully.

Overly simplistic wording or overexplaining a concept may be perceived as condescending.

Harsh or aggressive words (dislike, absolutely, never, etc.) make the client feel attacked and can disrupt communication. If a client is afraid to speak up for fear of a negative reaction, it is unlikely they will get what they want from a project and may end up dissatisfied.

Focus On Facts

Facts are important when working through conflict. Opinions not backed up by something concrete come off as argumentative.

To be blunt, when writing or designing for a client, your opinion is not as important as your expertise, so lean on your industry knowledge to discuss a difficult situation.

Personal opinion is always slanted by preference, life experience, attitude, etc. Do not rely only on your personal opinion to make suggestions or offer changes to what a client wants.

Instead, use facts and writing or design experience to back up suggestions or persuade the client to make a change you believe is necessary to the project’s success.

Some examples include: Retailers bury “taboo” subjects in the rankings, alpha behavior and abusive behavior are not the same thing and there are clear distinctions in many genre conventions, and an ending that doesn’t answer all pertinent questions will disappoint readers.

Ask for Client Input

Before attempting to change a client’s mind or offer advice contrary to what he or she wants, ask for their input or to explain the reason or motivation behind a specific preference.

Clients who feel unheard or dismissed will find a new companies to work with. Do not downplay a client’s concerns or opinions. Address them directly and thoroughly so she knows she is being heard and that her opinion matters.

If you have a differing viewpoint, explain why what he wants may hurt the project in polite, but clear terms backed up by logical reasoning and industry standards.

Ask open-ended questions that are nonjudgmental when requesting clarification or reasoning for what the client wants. Don’t jump to defend your point of view. Listen first and, if needed, provide factual background information.

Choose Words Mindfully

Certain words often trigger defensiveness or mistrust.

  • “But” insinuates an argument is coming
  • “I” language makes the client feel like you aren’t listening and are more focused on yourself and what you want
  • “No” makes the client feel like she is wrong

Other words inspire cooperation and positivity

  • “And” instead of “but” acknowledges you are aware of both the client’s and your concerns and that you are considering how to address both
  • Focusing on the client’s needs makes him feel listened to and respected
  • “My concern is” instead of “No” tells the client you are aware of her wants, but your expertise suggests there are better options

Focus on the Goal

The end goal is producing a high-quality book, copy, or design that will engage readers and sell successfully. Any time there is an issue with a project, keep yourself and the client focused on the end goal and finding solutions to problems.

True problems are those that will negatively impact the project. Differences in preference or opinion on issues that will not affect the end goal should not impede progress.

When you use your expert knowledge to communicate to the client why something he wants will hurt the end product, it refocuses him on the end goal rather than winning a particular argument.

Be Empathetic

How you are impacted by the overall process of completing a client project should not be the focus in conflict resolution. The client’s satisfaction is the priority.

The client hired you to complete a project for him or her. It is ultimately the client’s product and he or she wants it to be the best it can be, but may not have the ability, time, or skill to produce it without help. Your purpose as a service provider is to meet the client’s expectations and deliver a high quality product.

The difference in skill or understanding between client and provider is often the root cause of conflict in working with clients. When the client can better understand the process, research, and technique involved, it will not only build trust, it will help avoid future conflicts.

Treat clients with respect and empathy, working with him or her to address conflict and reach a successful and satisfying end.

Writing Professionalism: Improving Communication Skills

Improving your professional communication skills is not only essential for building a successful business, it is integral to developing strong client relations.

Tips for Improving Professional Communication Skills

Avoid fowl language. Never use profanity when speaking with a client, particularly new clients, even in a joking manner. The use of profanity can affect how a client perceives you and your suitability for their project. In reality, there may be specific clients you break this practice with, but the general rule should be avoidance of fowl or crude language.

Expand your vocabulary. Use correct grammar and know key industry words important in communicating literary, editing, or design concepts. Don’t dumb down your language to a condescending level. Clients often have a strong working knowledge of the task they are hiring out and simply do not have the time, resources, or skill to complete it on their own.

Avoid gossip. Do not discuss other clients or projects and do not disparage popular authors or books, or other service providers. This sends the message to the client that you may also talk about them to other clients or industry members. Use market research or data when suggesting changes or differing trends.

Keep it positive. Keep communication upbeat and positive, especially during difficult situations where you might be at odds with the client. Discuss problems by asking for the client’s feedback and suggestions on dealing with the situation so the client feels like he or she is working with you to solve an issue rather than being attacked.

Leave your personal life at home. Do not discuss your personal life or problems with the client. If you have a situation affecting your ability to work, it may be necessary to give a general explanation that there is a personal situation requiring your attention which may cause a delay or necessitate changes. Be sincere and apologetic without getting too personal.

Communicating with Potential and New Clients

When meeting with a potential client, prepare your pitch ahead of time, including information about yourself, your services, and your prices.

Introduce yourself to potential clients and detail your qualifications briefly. Do not go overboard touting your skills or awards. Give enough information to instill confidence and move on.

With a new client, review all the provided documents at the start of the project and assure nothing is missing. Make sure you know what products you will be providing and whether you have all the necessary materials. If anything is missing, politely contact the client and let him or her know there are additional documents or information needed from them before you can get started.

Once you have assured that you have all the basic materials, review all the provided information and make a list of questions you need answered in order to get begin working, such as setting location, names, steam level, etc. for a fiction project. Politely ask for more information as needed. Never blame the client for forgetting something or not having all the answers. If he or she is unsure of certain aspects, work with them to determine the needed answers as a partner rather than as a demanding parent.

Let the client know when you will get started, if you need to conduct additional research first, and what order you will work on the requested products if more than one is purchased. Clearly communicating timelines helps avoids frustration or instills confidence in your abilities and professionalism.

Any time you are unsure how to handle an interaction with a client, remember the golden rule and ask how you would like the situation to be handle if you were the client. Kindness and respect will help every project flow more smoothly.

Writing Professionalism: Avoiding Miscommunication

Much of client work happens virtually, increases the chances of miscommunication due to a lack of verbal cues, delays in communicating, differences in communication styles, and more. Consider these tactics for avoiding miscommunication when working with clients.

Asking Questions

Missing information, assuming understanding, and differences in connotation are just some of the ways misunderstandings can occur when working with clients. Asking clarifying questions is an important method of avoiding these pitfalls.

Never guess at what your client wants if the original project proposal or material is unclear. Clients may not have a full picture of what they want out of a project or what type of editing they might need. In order to fill in any gaps, ask specific questions about anything you feel is unclear. Moving forward on faulty assumptions leads to rewrites/redos and delays.

With a book cover design project, you may need to discuss the tone and genre and what current trends are to flesh out what the client wants. With editing, discuss what the client feels are the main weaknesses or what they need the most help with. If character development of improving storytelling is needed, that is more of a developmental edit while cleaning up typos and misplaced commas is more in line with a proofread.

If information is missing from a project plan, politely ask for clarification or for the client to provide the information that is lacking. If the information is missing because the client is unsure of the answer, discuss elements of the missing information by asking specific questions, such as where a book might be located in a physical bookstore if the genre or subgenre is unclear.

If a client wants you to fill in any gaps on your own, first suggest ideas or propose a specific path before moving forward. A client may be unsure of what they want, but they are often quite sure of what they don’t want when it is presented.

Paraphrase and Summarize

After a clarifying discussion, it is important to paraphrase and summarize the information discussed in order to make sure both parties understand what was discussed and what the conclusions are.

If you discussed project details or story elements, take a moment at the end of the conversation to summarize the topics discussed and what decisions were made in your own words. This makes sure you and the client are on the same page about what was discussed and how you will move forward.

Summarizing and paraphrasing the information helps prevent communication errors due to lack of nonverbal language, misunderstood humor, differences in connotations, etc. This tactic also shows the client that you were making a solid effort to understand what he or she wants and that you are truly listening. Making a client feel heard and understood helps build a stronger relationship.

Following Up

Miscommunication can also arise from lack of timely follow up. Not hearing back from a provider can cause a client to doubt that he or she understood the plan and create a sense of anxiety and overthinking or frustration.

Do not leave clients waiting for a response or a follow up on decisions made. Respond quickly with a thorough response or an update on your progress. Of course, delays do happen at times, but it is still important to communicate any delays to the client. If you are unable to fully respond in the moment, acknowledge that you received their message or email and give a specific time when you will be able to follow up.

When a client asks questions, be sure to answer each one fully. Answering some questions but not others or only partially answering a question makes a client feel they are not valued and creates confusion. If there are multiple questions to respond to, it can be helpful to reply by copy/pasting the questions into your reply and addressing them one by one.

After answering all questions, ask the client if everything is clear and invite him or her to follow up with any additional questions or clarification on any of the answers. Including the client in the process of clarification not only improves communication, but also shows that you value their input and insights, improving the overall relationship.

The process of clarifying a client’s needs can be a lengthy process, but it will improve the overall chances of success on the project and the relationship with the client.

Writing Professionalism: Effective Client Communication

Communicating with clients effectively takes many of the same skills as in other important relationships.

Active Listening

Active listening is more than hearing, it’s fully concentrating on words, body language, and subtext, and internalizing the message without judgment or offering of advice. Active listening is the first step in understand what a client needs or what a problem entails. Fully take in what the client is saying with an open mind rather than planning a response of considering other options while the client is speaking.

After listening actively to the initial conversation, take the time to ask questions about anything you don’t fully understand or on issues you aren’t sure you are seeing in the same way as the client. Reflect back to the client what they said in your own words so you can check your understanding and so the client can clarify anything that isn’t being understood in the way he or she would like it to be understood.

Ask for clarification when needed rather than assume or guess. Lastly, summarize the message or problem for both yourself and the client. This process help ensure there are no misunderstandings or missing information.

Active listening shows respect, improves the chances of full understanding, and limits misunderstandings or missed information. To learn more about active listening, visit Very Well Mind.

Consistent Communication

Communicating with a client in a consistent manner is an important aspect of effective communication.

All attempts at communication with clients should be conducted in a professional manner. Even if you know the person personally prior to them becoming a client, adjust the client/provider interactions to reflect that new aspect of the relationship.

Avoid casual chatting, asking personal questions, or sharing personal information when engaged in business discussions. It is important to stay focused on the project and so you can ensure the client is satisfied. Use professional language, avoiding slang, excessive emojis, or profanity.

It’s also important to use a similar communication style in all interactions, so the client knows what to expect when they engage in a conversation with you. This helps clients become more familiar with your style as a service provider and allow them to anticipate how interactions will occur. Consistency improves chances of open communication and honesty.

Adapting your communication style to the client’s (in a reasonable manner) can help the client feel more accepted and heard. This doesn’t mean mimicking a client’s style of communication. Instead, adapt to what the client needs to feel comfortable during an interaction. This may mean detailed explanations or brief overviews, providing written notes or audio messages, scheduling chat sessions or dropping impromptu updates as you complete tasks.

Ask your client specifically about their communication style in order to know and meet their expectations.

Adapting Language

Another important adaptation to consider is that of adapting your language to the individual client. This includes word choice, determine what does or doesn’t need to be explained, or the level of technicality.

Few clients will be as well-versed in literary or marketing terms as the writer providing the service is. Simplify language when needed to fully explain a concept without over-simplifying it to the point of condescension. Explain issues or problems in plain language to avoid confusion.

Ask yourself how you learned a term or idea and if a lay person would have the same knowledge. Writers who are working with an editor for the first time may need grammatical or style changes explained, or a discussion on why a particular aspect goes against industry standards or retailer terms of service.

Don’t assume your client knows everything you do, but don’t speak to them like a they know nothing at all, either. Assess the client’s level of knowledge and adapt accordingly. Explain a concept as you would to a coworker who has asked for your expertise on a subject, not as a teacher would explain something to a child.

Clarity and Concision

Be clear and concise when speaking with clients in order to avoid unnecessary problems. When asking clients for feedback or to respond to a question, be clear in what information you need and concise in your wording so the client does not have to attempt to interpret your request or guess at what you want.

List specific details you need if you are requesting answers or information. Provide the list in whatever manner your client is most receptive too, such as a bulleted list, audio file, graphic, etc.

When requesting opinions or feedback, ask about specific items, not general concepts. “What do you think about this version?” is much less helpful than “Does this color palette inspire the emotional response you’re looking for?” If a client doesn’t like something, they often have trouble pinpointing exactly what they don’t like. Asking specific questions makes giving feedback easier for the client and avoids lengthy back and forth conversations guessing at the main problem.

Provide timely updates on your progress. Don’t leave the client wondering what you are working on or when they will next hear from you. Clearly communicate any delays and the reasons for the delay, without crossing a line of professional boundaries.

Focusing on your client’s needs and giving full effort to communicating effectively will help avoid confusion, disappointment, and frustration.

Writing Professionalism: Getting Started Working with Clients

Building relationships with clients and having effective interactions is key to success in growing a service-oriented business.

Many authors don’t just write, they also provide services to other authors and to various writing clients. Learning how to interact with clients on a professional level can help you develop strong relationships with clients and grow your writing business.

The Importance of Working with Clients

As an editor, copywriter, ghostwriter, freelancer writer, etc., you will interact with clients on a regular basis during a project. The better those interactions go, the better the overall project will go as well.

It is critical that writers understand the importance of working with clients and the level of professionalism expected by clients. Clients who feel they are not valued or respected are unlikely to come back for another project with you.

An inability to interact with clients professionally will likely result in being awarded fewer projects. The writing community is small and reputations matter a great deal. If clients are unwilling to work with a service provider, other writers will hear about it fairly quickly.

Providing the client with excellent customer service, no matter the situation, is key a successful service-oriented business.

The Importance of Great Communication with Clients

Working with clients is all about building relationships. Like any relationship, effective communication improves the chances of building a strong relationship with your clients. Developing great relationships with clients helps to ensure repeat business. Repeat customers help the overall business and helps individual writers have more consistent work.

Poor communication leads to confusion, hurt feelings, dissatisfaction, and unfulfilled needs. Expectations should be communicated clearly at the beginning of the project to ensure you can meet them and that the client knows what product or service you will be providing and how and when it will be provided. This should include updates and progress reports.

Effective Communication when Getting to Know Clients

Monitoring tone is important in both verbal and written communication. It’s easier to interpret tone when a message is spoken, but if a new client is not familiar with you personally, jokes or sarcasm might not be taken in the right way.

In written communication, tone is even more easily be misconstrued. Be aware of how your words might be taken by someone who is still not yet familiar with you and your style of communication.

Connotation is the non-definition meaning people attach to words or ideas. Everyone has different connotations, making word choice extremely important in written messages where body language or vocal tone is absent. If you tend to use humor or sarcasm, these are especially in danger of being misinterpreted. Be cautious of using too much of this type of language when first getting to know a client.

Choose words that are universal and harder to misinterpret when explaining what services you will provide and the process you will use to complete the project.

It is also important to use concise language to communicate an issue or problem so the client knows exactly what is going on and how you intend to fix it. The more clearly the problem is defined, the more easily the client will be able to offer useful information to address it as well.

Working Through Problems with Clients

Be friendly and polite in all situations, even if a client is being difficult to work with or manage. Any message, including and especially problems, that communicated in a friendly, upbeat, and personable way are more likely to be received favorably. This will make finding solutions and working through the problem much less challenging.

Never use language that places blame or attacks the client. If information or materials are missing from what the client was supposed to provide, politely remind him or her that they are needed and ask when you can expect them. Make suggestions in a manner that offers a solution rather than simply stating a problem.

Ask for feedback on suggestions when problems are encountered. Show genuine interest in the client’s thoughts and reasoning, even if they are difference from your own ideas or plans for addressing an issue. Because clients are most familiar with a projects, they will have unique insights.

If a client disagrees with your plan of action or proposed solutions, acknowledge their input and accept their final decision graciously. You are providing a service, but the ultimate outcome of the project is his or her decision.

Always use basic manner, such as please and thank you, in your communications. Not getting along with a client doesn’t mean it’s okay to be disrespectful or rude.

Telling Clients “No”

Saying no to a client is always challenging, but it will almost always go better if you can find a way to reject an idea in a positive way.

There may be times when a client wants something that go against a retailer’s policies, client or genre expectations, or will be detrimental to a projects success. It is an important skill to be able to explain why an idea won’t work in a positive and respectful way.

Avoid actually saying the word “no” when possible. A better approach is to fully explain the problem. For instance, explicit sex scenes int eh first chapter, rape or incest as a main storyline, and similar taboos will go against many retailer’s terms of service and block a book from being published or prevent it from being found by customers.

Once you fully explain the problem, back up your reasoning with facts and data when possible. Amazon categorizes books with explicit sex in the first 25% of the book as erotica and will bury it, and most retailers will remove books containing incest or rape as a main storyline. Explaining this policies can help a client understand why a project element will harm its overall success.

Offer a solution to the problem after presenting it. The client may need to add more character development in early chapter to push explicit sex further back, and alter a storyline to remove unacceptable or banned taboo topics.

If a client is unwilling to change or alter a project element that you know will hurt the project’s success, it may be necessary to end the relationship. Do so politely and with explicit reasons of why you have reached an impasse. Not every partnership is a good fit, and it is better to end what isn’t working than let it devolve into unprofessionalism.

Remember that your reputation in the writing community will greatly affect your overall success in growing a service-oriented writing business.

Author Interviews on Author Life

I have really enjoyed working on my podcast, Author Life, this year. I’ve finally gotten caught up on republishing old episodes and getting into a groove with partner podcasts with Bestselling Reads.

Now…I’m ready to start scheduling new interviews with authors!

I’d like to invite fellow authors who are interested in talking about their journey in writing in publishing to reach out to me about setting up an interview! I love sharing authors stories and helping other authors learn more about what’s it’s like to join the world of publishing.

If you’re interested in scheduling an interview, please reach out here.

Reiki series by Margaret Cheasebro

I recently had the opportunity to work on a nonfiction formatting and cover design project for the lovely Margaret Cheasebro. I love how the covers turned out and I had a lot of fun working on a more complex formatting project.

Margaret is a master level reiki instructor, so if your interested in learning more about the topic, check out her books here.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Fixing Conflict that Doesn’t Work

Conflict may fall flat for a variety of reasons. If a source of conflict is not providing the needed progression or reader interest, consider why it isn’t working.

One-Source Conflict

Conflict, particularly the main story conflict, cannot come from a single source and be realistic and effective. A mix of internal and external conflict is needed to support a full story arc.

Consider which type of conflict the story is most heavily leaning on and work to balance it out. If internal conflict is dominating, create more instances of external conflict that relates back to the main internal conflict and pushes the character to develop new skills or grow in some way. These often appear in subplots and focus on individual skills or traits the character needs to develop.

Simple Conflict

Conflict that is not complex enough is boring and too easily resolved to hold the reader’s attention or provide meaningful opportunities for character growth and development.

This is another great use for subplots that can raise the stakes of the main conflict, make the character’s faults and weakness have a bigger impact on the main storyline, and make the character fail more often.

Provide ample opportunities for the character to learn and grow or the change needed at the end will feel too abrupt and unsupported to be believable.

Superficial Conflict

If the conflict a character faces is not impactful enough or too easily resolved, delve deeper. Figure out what the source of the conflict is rather than focusing on how it manifests. Dig until the character is bare, then use that knowledge to create more meaningful obstacles.

Predictable Conflict

If the reader can see what is coming a mile away, he or she will get bored and move on. Do not set a character on the first path that comes to mind without exploring all the options.

Develop unusual paths for growth, obstacles that arise from unexpected sources, and resolutions that may end the way the reader expected (such as a happily ever after ending) but do not come about in the expected way.

Examine each trope or tactic used and come up with an alternative way to integrate it, such as a character losing the job she spent the whole book working toward but being offered an alternative that will use her skills in an unexpected way.

Conflict in a Bubble

A story and its sources of conflict should extend beyond the page. Conflict that exists in a bubble often occurs due to lack of backstory development and consideration of the character’s future.

That final scene kiss in a romance won’t be as delicious if the reader is left feeling like the characters are underdeveloped and incapable of sustaining the relationship long-term.

The characters of a story did not come into existence on page one. Their lives prior to the story beginning brought them to the moment that takes place on page one. The characters’ current situation will have important impacts on the choices and actions made and taken throughout the story. Consider how a character got to page one and how past experiences will complicate or hinder his or her future.

Conflict only drives a story when it is carefully developed and well thought out. Taking the time to delve into the sources and impacts of conflict in a story will make it more meaningful, realistic, and powerful.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Resolving Conflict

The resolution to conflict, both main and subplot conflict, must be believable. That means it must makes sense for the characters and overall story, and have been reached through a logical progression of events, actions, and decisions.

If conflict resolution does not meet these criteria, the reader will be left unsatisfied and may even lose interest in the writer.

Resolution of the main conflict should be a progression of smaller resolutions, each one wrapping up a subplot conflict that served a purpose in helping the character grow and develop enough to resolve the main conflict. Resolving minor conflicts is key because those conflicts are often the reasons (taken all together) for the main conflict.

Internal change shapes the character’s underlying goals and helps him or her focus more fully on achieving the main goal. Once the underlying goals are better aligned, it is easier for the character to more clearly see how to resolve the main conflict.

It is imperative that the the minor and major conflicts resolve in ways that satisfies the reader and doesn’t leave him or her with unanswered questions. This does not mean that the resolution has to be the expected option or that the reader will like the resolution. It does mean that resolution satisfies the initial questions posed and promises made to the reader at the beginning of the story.

Evaluating Resolution

Reread the first chapter and ask yourself how you want the story to end. Then ask yourself what you are willing to see each character give up in order to achieve that ending.

Do your answers to these questions line up with how the story ended? If not, why? If so, did you fully explore all options for resolution or are you taking the easy, expected way out of the story? Avoid cliched, stereotypical, and unrealistic endings.

If a female main character gives up all of her goals to fulfill the male main character’s goals instead, you are bound to get more than a few eye rolls from readers unless you provide very convincing reasons for that choice. After spending so much time and energy developing strong conflict, don’t short change the resolution by failing to consider all options and making needed revisions that will improve the resolution.

Ask yourself what steps make sense for each character to get from page one to the final resolution. Is anything out of character or difficult to justify? If so, take the time to rework or flesh out unsatisfying points of a character’s development. If you can fully develop the character’s journey and individual points of conflict, the resolution will flow from that journey to a satisfying ending more easily.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Adding Depth

Even if you have developed strong conflict for the main plot, you may still end up with slow sections or lackluster moments of character growth. Layering conflict in small ways adds depth and can make a big different in the overall appeal of a story.

Progress and Failure

The main conflict should be complex enough to last the entire length of the story. Ending it too early creates endings that drag on for too long. Conflicts related to subplots or specific instances of learning or growth can be resolved within a few chapters.

It is important to remember, though, that conflict progression should not be a straight line. It should reflect a roller coaster motion, making improvement or completing steps toward a goal, then failing or hitting a new stumbling block. This back and forth motion prolongs and heightens the story’s conflict, adding depth and realism.

Anticipation and Expectation

Once readers know what a character’s main goal is, most will be able to intuit the necessary steps the character will need to take to achieve that goal. If you as the writer follow those steps in a straight forward manner, the reader will become bored.

Determine what steps need to be taken, then create situations or outcomes that will derail or delay those steps being completed, causing the character to have to take unexpected routes to continue on their journey.

Make sure the character is fully invested in the expected outcome and make it clear to the reader through internal dialogue and conversation how much he or she anticipates reaching that goal. This raises the personal stakes of failure for the character and helps forge a bond with the reader. When failure and setbacks happen, as they should, the reader will share the character’s pain and frustration.

Other character’s expectations can be a powerful way to add depth to conflict as well. If a character’s friend or partner either doesn’t believe she can reach a goal, or puts an excessive amount of pressure on her to meet a goal, this also raises the stakes of failure and heightens the reader’s anticipation of character development. The character not only needs to reach his goal, he must also battle with consequences of the outcome on others.

Building Suspense

Conflict and suspense are not the same thing, but they are often closely related. Suspense surrounding whether or not the character will push through conflict to reach a goal keeps the reader wondering whether the character will be successful. If the reader is too sure of success, the reader may lose interest.

Adding stumbling blocks, internal uncertainty or fear, and situational problems into a story keeps the reader from developing too much certainty about how the story will end. The suspense of not knowing keeps the interest level higher and can help develop a connection with the reader.

Fears and Faults

The reasons that a character struggles to achieve a goal aren’t always external. In fact, they shouldn’t be only external because that risks progress toward a goal becoming repetitive and predictable.

If a character can always talk herself out of a problem and never faces any repercussions, the reader will not be concerned about failure. If, however, a character self-sabotages even the most promising situation out of fear of an employer developing too high of expectations, the reader will constantly worry about how the character might bomb a situation.

Internal obstacles provide a deeper source of conflict because internal conflict is often much more difficult to overcome than external conflict. Internal conflict comes from trauma and old wounds. Neither of which are easily repaired.

Disadvantaged Starts

A story’s inciting incident is often seen as the start of the main conflict in a story. It is not the beginning of all conflict involved in a character’s journey. The reasons that a character struggles to achieve a goal are often rooted in their past experiences and situations.

Consider what disadvantages your character is starting with and how those will play into the storyline. Whether physical, financial, emotional, educational, or mental, everyone has sources of conflict they battle daily. Draw on these to develop meaningful stumbling blocks. The more personal the hindrance, the more believable it will be.

If a character is too close to achieving a goal when the story starts and there is not enough conflict in reaching a goal, the journey won’t be very interesting. Make a character have to work to achieve their goal.

Reveal Slowly

The main question that keeps reader engaged in a story is: what will happen next? When readers connect with characters and situations, they become invested in the outcome. If the answers are given too early or too openly without any work on the part of the reader, he or she may loose interest quickly.

Only give the bare minimum that the reader needs to understand what is happening in the scene. Do not reveal full backstories or motivations without good reason. Make both the character and the reader work to learn what he will face and whether she will succeed.

Be patient and detailed when fleshing out conflict in a story. Success should never come easily or in the most commonly expected way.