I volunteer with an organization called Step It Up, which connects high school students with experts in their chosen careers, and offers advice and support around jobs. Over the last couple of months, I've done a couple of writing workshops for them, with a co-leader who is a teacher.
The last two days we've been working with the kids on writing cover letters and thank yous. Specifically, my task was to help them find ways to get stories into their cover letters (and job interviews) to make them come alive.
As my co-leader Christine and I planned how we would do this last week, I told her it was very simple. That there was one thing that every single story from the beginning of time had in common.
"What is that?" she asked.
I'm sure all of you reading know the answer, so say it with me:
The bedrock, bottom-line, starting point of all story. Conflict. Stories don't exist without it.
And yet, my co-leader, an educated woman with a master's degree who had taken tons of English classes and participated on the debate team, had never heard this simple fact. Which doesn't actually surprise me because I've run into plenty of grown-ups who haven't either.
The cool thing is that Christine went off and put her new knowledge into place. Yesterday she stopped me after the workshop and said, "Thank you. This whole story thing has totally blown my mind and changed the way I look at everything."
Turns out she had spent the weekend with a group of girlfriends, and every time it was her turn to talk or tell a story, she found herself rearranging it a bit mentally so that she started with a bit of conflict. And now she's thinking about how she can put conflict into her cover letter stories and jazz them up.
Its the power of conflict, baby. Use it whenever you can, in the stories you tell, the letters you write, the books you are committing to paper. Your writing and your story telling will be richer and more compelling for it. Put the conflict on the page and keep it out of your life, is my motto.
For the record, when I asked the teenagers in the workshops what the basic element of story was, most of them answered, "conflict." So there's hope for future writers.
How do you develop conflict in your writing?
**If you want to know how to develop conflict in your book proposal, consider taking my book proposal teleclass. It begins June 7th, and the early-bird pricing is still on. Check it out here.