Creating Arcs without Conflict

Although harder to do, it is possible to create a book without conflict (or with a very slight one!) For example, a concept book might be a book without or little conflict. Other examples might be books with an arc (a beginning / middle/ end) based on a cycle, such as seasons, the water cycle, the life cycle. Examples, Mr Wolf’s Week, (Colin Hawkins) The Rhythm of the Rain (Grahame Baker-Smith) Life (Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel). 

PLOTTING VS PANTSING: 

Joanna Nadin, a self-confessed plotter, says there are many myths surrounding plotting that often put people off doing it: 

– Planning isn’t writing. 

– Planning is boring. 

– Planning makes writing boring. 

– The planning makes writing rigid and inflexible. 

But in my experience, if you spend time thinking about the shape of your story before you begin, even just verbally, then the writing will be much easier. I’ve heard some people say character is plot. Even just stopping and answering these questions is helpful before you begin: 

What does your character want? 

What is in their way? 

What do they struggle with? 

What are they afraid of? 

What is your character’s secret? 

What is their most embarrassing moment? 

When people get stuck in a plot hole, it’s often because they haven’t planned enough and weren’t entirely ready to begin. Perhaps the idea wasn’t thought through enough. Yes, you can pants your way through plot holes by being spontaneous and being led by your characters wants and wishes, but it’s easy to get side-tracked and lose focus. This can make the text a nightmare to edit! 

Despite me saying this, a pantsing method might work best for you. Personally, however, the more time I put in at the start, the easier the words flow. Planning is playing around with the story, be it in a list, with pictures, in my mind, in conversation… writing is typing up a story already written. At the very least, I know the emotional journey my character will take. E.g. I might not know how they overcome their fear of heights, but they begin afraid of falling and end being able to fly. I plot this over 12 spreads. 

THINKING ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL ARC: 

Compelling plots are often driven by emotion and the main character wanting something – something they need to achieve, or a problem they need to solve. The problem could be small, like not wanting to eat peas, or big like overcoming grief or the monster under the bed. Funny, absurd, realistic… as long as it’s relevant, relatable and interesting to a child, it’s up to you. If your character didn’t want anything, then there would be no emotion to push the story forward and no conflict. 

Think of an emotion and try tracking it from its difficult arrival to its empowering resolution. Repeating this with other feelings can be a good way of gathering ideas and a good way of plotting, if you’re reluctant to be too structured. 

  • MC has a problem 
  • MC faces obstacles that escalate 
  • MC encounters a black moment in which things can’t possibly get any worse 
  • MC figures out how to solve the problem 
  • MC grows/changes by the book’s end 

If you haven’t been put off, take this one step further and decide on an external arc/setting to go alongside your feeling. Your internal conflict (such as being shy) will need to be expressed though action (wanting to make a friend on a first day at school) if it is to have the right balance of showing and telling. Think of something concrete and specific. Then try brainstorming every action you think your character might take to resolve their issue, keeping in mind their personality, the tone of the story and the nature of the obstacle (doing a painting – but being too shy to give it/ wanting to join the game – but being too shy to ask) Once you’ve got enough scenarios of things that might happen, pick three escalating scenes to test your character. Remember, we don’t want them to overcome it too easily and they won’t learn or grow. 

Distilling the emotional message or the thread is your story’s DNA. Knowing this before you begin can make writing faster, which means you can come up with more ideas. Eventually these things will become natural to you and you won’t have to do actively think about plot. 

Note: Avoid negatives such as; ‘I don’t want to brush my teeth’ when you’re starting out as these are harder since you are moving away from an idea, rather than towards it. Positive actions towards goals are proactive and more straightforward to overcome. 

If you do consider yourself a plotter, or have enjoying plotting and want an extension task, take a look at the Excel Beat Sheet and try and complete it for a story.