Author Archives: Jace Killan

Multidimensional Conflict

5707821514_23b89e4164_bI used to confuse conflict with action. In film, we decipher conflict from dialogue and character’s actions and reactions. In writing we have the added dimension of thought. We can introduce the reader to conflicts through our characters in an intimate way.

We spent a month discussing how to develop characters and it may be beneficial to review those posts. In order to have good conflict we must start with great characters.

When developing a plot I place my characters together wondering how they will interact, asking myself if they’ll fall in love or want to kill each other and everything in between.

Then I start to develop these interactions into a story.

As readers we desire conflict, because we crave the resolution. We want to feel that relief. The greater the conflict the greater the potential resolution.

Some ways to deepen the conflict is to harvest the POV character’s minds, telling their tale of woe and enlisting the reader to the cause.

Add another dimension to that conflict by blowing the reader’s mind when you reveal the antagonist’s motives for his/her actions.

Warning the following might contain some spoilers, though I’ve tried to leave them vague enough.

For example, in Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, Szeth (Picture courtesy of Flickr) is a bit of a hit man and the book opens showing him as the tyrant of the story. As we get to know Szeth more we understand that he is deeply torn between his actions and his religion.

Side note, Religion is a great tool in developing conflict because it can cause characters to do things that otherwise would seem wrong.

Back to Szeth. As a reader I care for Szeth even though he is committing heinous acts. I fear for what he might do and fear for what might be done to him. I suspect in the next book there is a battle between Cal and Szeth, two characters that I adore and wish the best for and would love to see succeed, but they are on a crash course and I am fearing the worst. That’s great conflict.

In Dan Wells book, I am Not a Serial Killer, the protagonist is very likable, even though he admittedly would like to do some terrible things. Likewise the Antagonist does horrific things and yet his motivation is sweet and kind. It makes me hate and love both characters at the same time and makes for some incredible conflict seeing it from the antagonist POV and longing to understand more the antagonist’s motives because the character is so unique.


koon_9780345533456_cvr_all_r1.inddIn Tick Tock by Dean Koontz, all of the conflict arises from the relationships of the characters. The conflict by itself, the plot of the story would be pretty haunting and neat, but adding in the relationship the protagonist has with his mother and a woman he only just met, adds dimension upon dimension to the conflict. Additionally, the reader discovers more about the characters as the story progresses creating new layers to the conflict.

Here’s a short example from film—Star Wars, episode IV. Pay attention to how the conflict arises out of the interaction of characters and advances the story along.

Conflict from Luke wanting to leave but Uncle and Aunt won’t let him. We later find out that one of their motivations was to protect Luke from Darth Vader.

Conflict arises from Droids. Luke and Uncle debate what to do with the droids. Droids try and run away. The empire is looking for the droids. Each of these is on a different vector, travelling in different directions, but all collide at the family farm and then Uncle and Aunt are killed.

Their deaths facilitate Luke’s deciding event. The Droids lead Luke to his mentor Obi Wan and the protagonist is whisked away on a great adventure to save the galaxy.

So in summary, develop your characters first and then ask how they interact with each other. What crazy situations may arise as their different motivations and directions collide? Then go deeper. Add more layers and more dimensions to those conflicts by further showing motivations and developing reader empathy for both sides of the conflict.


jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.



When Rules get you into Trouble

The_Book_Cover_Of_The_RacketeerA great writer once told me that to be a good writer, I needed to learn all the literary rules and then forget them all.

I remember the first time I shared my craft with a crit group. I remember thinking how lucky they all were to discover my talent. The session didn’t quite go as I thought. They tore apart my writing for one fundamental flaw—Point of View. In the chapter of about fifteen hundred words I switched POV at least seven times. I wrote as if I were watching a movie, each POV a different camera angle. This of course is amateurish and makes for rough reading.

In another crit group, I shared a new piece, expecting agent referrals and publishing contracts. Instead I received fantastic feedback on the concept (new to me at the time) of Showing vs. Telling.

So I upped my game. I avoided any word ending in “ly” and the word “felt” so that I could show instead of tell. (There was a great post on adverbs earlier this month). I wrote much more dialogue and I put my main POV character deep in the scene. I thought that I needed to keep reminding the reader of where my POV character was, how his/her hands were positioned, and where he/she was looking.

Instead of writing, “I picked up the phone.” I might have written something like, “I picked up the phone with my right hand while using my left to shuffle through some papers.

I’d use filtering phrases like “I could see the light glistening through the window from the outside.”

Rather than “Light glistened through the window.”

This type of writing really messes with pacing. I had written a scene as follows:

“Lenny grabbed the back of the trailer with his right hand and while running along he reached as far as he could with his left hand grabbing another part of the trailer and jumped at the same time pulling himself up though he got stuck part way but soon pulled himself up and onto the trailer. “

Rather than, “With some effort, Lenny managed to pull himself into the trailer.”

Also, I failed to give any backstory in my novel for fear of telling rather than showing. So I would get it in by an incredibly long discussion that didn’t quite work. I left my readers with a bunch of questions, because I was too afraid to “tell.”

It seemed as if I swung on the pendulum of poor writing from inappropriate use of POV and too much telling, to the other side of overuse of POV and obscurity.

To address my problems I’ve read, a lot. I take notice of when authors use “ly” words and when they use filtering and why it works or maybe how it could be better. I’ve paid attention to how an author shows a story, how he/she sets it up and establishes setting while still revealing back story, and I think I’m getting it. Maybe those publishing contracts are right around the corner or maybe I’ll have another opportunity to learn and grow or both.

I’m learning that good writing is just one element to a good story. I’ll endure page after page of telling backstory in The Rackateer by John Grisham, because the story is intriguing. I’ll ignore Larry Correia’s overuse of adverbs in his work Monster Hunter International because his story is extremely exciting and funny. I’ll overlook Michael Chrichton’s abundance of point of view filtering in Prey because the story is full of nail-biting suspense. Hopefully someday I can have the privilege of someone critiquing my work after they’ve paid for it.

jace 1I think that it is very unlikely that a person just wakes up one day and realizes that he/she is a fantastic writer. Great authors learn how to write great stories well. It takes time and lots of practice.

I think maybe I’m starting to forget some rules.




Try and Fail in Love

gone-with-the-windI remember watching Gone with the Wind when I was about five or six. My mother is a sucker for the classics. The plot and story were a bit over my head, but I remember getting the gist of what was happening by pestering my mom. I gathered that Scarlet O’hara was in love with Ashley, but for some reason the two didn’t run off together and live happily ever after like the other shows I’d watch. In the Disney movies, there seemed to be a clear connection between the love interests and then the evil villain did everything he/she could to keep the two from being happy forever.

Gone with the Wind was different. The characters seemed to get in their own way of being happily-ever-after. I remember at that young age becoming upset with Scarlet that she wouldn’t just express her feelings in a reasonable manner. That always seemed to work in the cartoons. Scenes like “Kiss the Girl” and “A Whole New World” were all about expression and contained in them try/fail cycles. Scarlet frustrated me because it seemed she just wanted to play games.


Like any conflict, a great love story will have try/fail cycles. Gone with the Wind impacted me as a child because it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight and happily-ever-after story. Misperceptions, miscommunications, expectations, lies, and all of those things that make us human beings can help create some intense love and conflict development. Having a character that isn’t “Prince Charming” but someone with faults and flaws can help deepen that conflict as well.

Scarlet tried to hook up with Ashley but failed each time. During the times it might have worked out, she got in her own way and failed some more. I hated the story for it, but here I am discussing it thirty years later because the conflict made it memorable.

Meet Joe Black starts with a love-at-first-sight scene and then develops the relationship through a myriad of try/fail cycles, each offering greater insight into the human experience.

The love interest doesn’t need to be two human beings. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s love interest is the Shire. Conflict is introduced by the use of a temptress—the ring. How many times did Frodo try to give up the one for the other? The story is laden with these try/fail cycles.

We’ve all done stupid things for love and this can be another way to utilize try/fail cycles. In Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella seems insane as he nearly loses the family farm and goes on a road trip to chase a developing love interest.

There are so many more.

The next movie you watch, take an inventory of the love interest and temptress if there is one then watch for the try/fail cycles. As readers we want the protagonist and love interest to succeed. But if they don’t try and fail a few times before making it work, we’ll tire of the tale and toss it aside. In short it will become forgettable.


Petting the Dog

A few months ago I took one of David Farland’s workshops where he introduced me to a concept known as “Petting the Dog.” He explained that in Hollywood, writers would introduce a scene to sell a character’s likability to the audience by petting a dog or kissing a baby or something of that sort. Since the class I have taken note of those scenes in film and in writing.

In past Disney films, many of the characters were all good or all bad and of course their actions reflected this. From Cinderella and the mice, Aurora and the fairies, Snow White and the Dwarves, Mary Poppins and the blue jay and Ariel and the crustacean band, these characters gained likability by showing that they treated other critters and creatures well and by doing charitable and kind acts.

In later years, characters have not been so “traditional” and one-dimensional. Aladdin for example was a thief but he shared his bread with the street orphans, in essence “petting the dog.” That’s how Disney sold Aladdin’s likability in spite of him being in an unlikable profession.

shrek birdShrek was another that didn’t follow tradition. They even took the “petting the dog scene” of Mary Poppins and Snow White, singing with a Blue Jay. I never laughed so hard at a movie when the bird exploded; it was completely unexpected and yet endearing.

Maleficent had to go through some rebranding in the recent Disney film. How did they take a terrible witch sorceress that threatened to kill Prince Charming and make her likable? They showed her as a child and a guardian of the woods, kind to its critters and creatures and as an adult, kind and caring to Aurora.

Villain protagonists or hero antagonists are becoming more popular in film and literature. Entire television series are based on the dichotomy present in such characters doing bad things for righteous reasons, like The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, House of Cards, The Sopranos, Almost Human, Deadwood, Justified, Revenge and so many more. Each of these relies heavily on “petting the dog” scenes.

Tig and DogIn Sons of Anarchy, Tig a member of the MC and up until a certain point was one of my most favorite characters, mistakenly killed another member’s wife. I hated him for it. I hated the writers for it. I resented going to that place that they took me, but I went all the same. I expected that the writers didn’t care about the character as much as I did and were going to kill him off. But in following episodes there were many scenes that showed a tender side to Tig. In one, he walked into a dogfight and rescues a pit bull about to be put down because it lost. This reminded me that Tig was human and not a monster. The writers brought him back by “petting the dog.”

House of Cards opened with a “petting the dog” scene. The villain protagonist, Frank Underwood tends to a dog is hit by a car. He pets the dog then kills it, supposedly for a righteous reason, but the scene gives us tremendous insight into this Underwood’s character.

Of course, these scenes do not always involve a dog. As David Heyman pointed out in an earlier post, NASA was able to endear the public to a couple of machines through their twitter feeds.

In the Shield, the series opens with a dirty cop, Vic Mackey, killing a righteous officer. The writers needed to sell the viewer that Vic was worth investing into with enduring emotion, even though he did something so heinous. I’m not sure they ever really pulled it off, but the “petting the dog” scenes involved a prostitute with a small child. Vic went out of his way multiple times to help this woman and her son.

Good storytellers endear us to characters, not by showing them doing what everyone else would do, but by showing us the exception. By allowing our characters to “pet the dog” we can offer great insights to their moral codes and personal thoughts, even if they are a psycho killer.

What other examples of “petting the dog” have you seen?