Play Fortunately, Unfortunately–And Liven Up Your Plot

conflict ballonsToday’s post is an absolutely brilliant one by Emma Darwin on adding conflict. I tend to go too easy on my characters at times. I love them too much, and when I have to make their lives a living hell, I feel guilty. Add to that a tendency in real life to push right past the tough times as soon as possible, and my betas are often saying that I have lovely writing, but I need more conflict.

So this is a reminder for me as well as I head back into revising my next novel.

Conflict keeps the reader guessing. Once they think they know where the book is going and how it’s going to get there, all the urgency is gone. Elegant writing won’t save a tale that doesn’t keep the reader guessing.

So with no more ado, here’s the article.


Don’t Plot, Just Play Fortunately-Unfortunately

I’ve been plotting a novel recently, and one of the things I’ve done to help myself see if my story really was embodied in my plot (click here for the difference between plot and story), was to write a long, blueprint-like synopsis. And about three-quarters of the sentences in it were two-parters, hinging on a “but”. Whatever action or situation was set up in the first half of the sentence was confounded, confused, contradicted or compromised by what was in the second half. What’s more, if you look at the blurb on just about any novel or life-writing, it’s doing exactly that. Look for the “but”s, and if, instead, you see a “then” or an “and”, there will still be clear friction between the two halves of the sentence. Either way, the blurb sets up an unstable situation, and so we know that something can’t help but happen.

At which point I realised that plotting is, essentially, a game familiar to me from my Drama days: Fortunately-Unfortunately.

Fortunately, Friendly Bear was vegetarian. Unfortunately, Nervous Rabbit didn’t know that.

Fortunately, Li-Chan won the lottery. Unfortunately, she was dying of cancer.

Fortunately, Yousuf was a skillful fisherman and an excellent cook. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that squid sent Anna into anaphylactic shock.

Fortunately, Jane Bennet was invited to London. Unfortunately, it would have been improper for her to tell Charles Bingley that she was on her way. Fortunately, it was proper to tell his sister. Unfortunately, Caroline Bingley was a scheming bitch.

The thing is, change is the motor of storytelling: a story starts with a character… continued at

conflict comic

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Writing
2 comments on “Play Fortunately, Unfortunately–And Liven Up Your Plot
  1. christinadrh says:

    Really great advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, it’s an excellent article. I’m looking forward to putting it to good use on my next manuscript. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Contact Cathleen Townsend

%d bloggers like this: