Dropping one into the strike zone


John Clark weighing in on conflict, our topic this month. I’m a baseball junkie among other things, a die hard Red Sox fan like many in New England. There’s an online chat board called Sonsofsamhorn.net where the ultra serious and all-knowing Sox fans gather and debate all things Sox. One graphic often posted there is what’s called a pitch dispersion chart. It shows where all the pitches thrown during a game end up in terms of the strike zone.

Daily encounters of the conflict kind can accrue in a like manner. When we write a book, or as is often in my case, a short story, we allow the conflicts our characters experience to accrue. One of our biggest challenges is to decide which ones are relevant to the story line, then which are immediate, which should be bled out gradually, and which we should let simmer, out of the reader’s mind until they boil over and create that ‘moment’ when all hell breaks loose.

I’m getting great feedback from my two writing groups. Each is looking at a different book. My face to face group is looking at (I’m Not) Singing The L.A. Blues) while the online folks are looking at Thor’s Wingman. Both have made me see how my background as a short story writer have made me info-dump, or front load both books, so I’m revising and trying to spread out conflicts and back story details in a lengthier and more organic manner.

That’s not easy. Some mornings it’s easier to go back to sleep rather than grow up and wrestle with conflict, but that’s what will be necessary if either book is going anywhere.

Back to the scatter chart. Imagine a day, a week, or a month in the life of today’s teen. Now imagine each potential conflict point as one of those pitches.

At first, it seems like every one of them is coming at you with 96 mile an hour velocity. However the longer you’re at the plate, so to speak, the better eye you develop and can start to see which are in the strike zone. That’s what separates great hitters like Wade Boggs and Ted Williams from everyone else.

Your characters go through similar stints at this metaphorical plate. Think about the difference in conflict recognition and ability to deal with them when looking at a high school freshman versus a senior. Granted not everyone matures equally during that time frame, but conflict coping and recognition generally improve. Either that, or you end up a shivering ball of victimness.

The kinds of conflict we throw at our characters (and teens in real life) has changed a heck of a lot in recent times. When I was a teen, getting a date, avoiding pregnancy, making a team, getting parents to see our viewpoint, having a job to earn spending money, were the sort of conflicts/challenges that we thought were important. How many of those are still on today’s list?

Things like terrorism, LBGTQIA, climate change, nut-case politicians (Spiro Agnew looks like a pound puppy compared to MTG), environmental disasters, and school shootings weren’t even on our radar, but they are now. Heck, when I was in high school, almost every guy (and a few girls) had a gun rack in their truck with a deer rifle on it and nobody thought anything was odd.

One of our challenges as YA authors is twofold: First figure out which conflicts from that scatter chart are relevant to our story, and then weave them into the narrative in a way that our target readers will find real and relevant. I wish us all luck.


  1. I like the idea of a writer being in conflict with the manuscript. It can truly be a battle!

  2. One of your best blogs yet. You do a great job describing the decision making process and all that you have to consider.


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