Don’t Be a Troublemaker

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Characters, Conflict/Tension, Friends of ACFW, writing Leave a Comment

By Davalynn Spencer

Did your mother ever tell you to stop being a troublemaker? How about your teachers? Friends.

Well, if that task was hard to achieve in your childhood, and you’re a fiction writer today, now’s your chance to shine.

Making trouble is what novelists are called to do. We usually think of that trouble in terms of “conflict” because of the fabulously helpful acronym, GMC, from Debra Dixon’s book, Goal Motivation & Conflict. It’s our job to create conflict in our characters’ lives, the more the better.

However, I’ve discovered that the word conflict doesn’t always help me in the creative process.

Words carry connotations – feelings, flavors, undertones – in addition to their literal meanings. When I focus on the word conflict, I end up fighting my head.

Bestselling author and award-winning fiction editor, Erin Healy, helped me past that roadblock when she suggested the word “obstacle.”

Ah, yes. Obstacle. The word opened worlds to me.

Sensing freedom and discovery beyond the confines of “must,” “should,” and “always-do-it-this-way,” I dared consider other words I might line up next to conflict and obstacle:

Problem. Hindrance. Complication. Impediment. TROUBLE!

The chains fell away.

There are many other synonyms or related words writers can substitute for phrases that have become commonplace, and I encourage you to generate your own list.

My recent release, The Miracle Tree, contains a scene resulting from an argument I had with the main character regarding trouble. (Since writerly types are reading this, I don’t mind confessing that I talk back to the voices in my head.)

With wildland fire raging over nearby hills, the heroine, Laura, grabs what is most important and runs to her car. Originally, I saw her snatching up her pets, tossing them in the front seat, and driving away in plenty of time.

But no-o. That was too easy.

Not enough tension, Laura told me. Not enough danger. Not enough trouble.

She was right. I’m glad I listened.

Sometimes we authors want to shield our characters just a little. Okay, a whole lot. But we mustn’t. They have to slam up against obstacles, problems, conflicts, trouble. They have to hurt.


Because our readers hurt.

Not only do we need conflict in our stories for the sake of character arc and/or excitement, we need it for the sake of our readers.

No one wants to read problem-free stories because no one lives a problem-free life.

The power of story in Christian fiction brings not only conflict, but victory. People need conflict because people need victory – even if it’s someone else’s.

So, help these people out as you craft the stories that stir their hearts and strengthen their hope. Be a troublemaker.

Be a troublemaker! @davalynnspencer #ACFWBlogs #amwriting #gmc #conflict Click To Tweet

Wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters, Davalynn Spencer writes Western romance. She is a Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author and winner of the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Inspirational Western Fiction. For more about The Miracle Tree, check out ACFW’s Fiction Finder at Connect with Davalynn via her website



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