When Writers Err Too Heavily on the Side of Drama and Conflict

writing conflict and drama

Much of writing advice boils down to: add more conflict. Make sure there’s tension, increase the suspense, ask new questions when you resolve the old ones, and always, always complicate matters. Don’t let your characters get off too easy—don’t be nice!

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, novelist Carrie Brown talks about the value of having happiness in stories, but not just any happiness. Most happiness involves complication and compromise. She writes:

I am interested in happiness, but perhaps I should say more exactly that I am interested in the difficulty of happiness, or the problem of happiness. It seems to me not a simple thing at all, but something immensely complicated, an exquisitely precarious and ephemeral and nuanced state that depends—in fiction as in life, perhaps—on the nearby presence of unhappiness to be felt most acutely.

Read the full piece: The Difficult Art of Happiness.

This month’s Glimmer Train bulletin also offers:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration and tagged , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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[…] Much of writing advice boils down to: add more conflict. But don't forget how happiness can be problematic—adding compromise and complication as well.  […]

Cathy Shouse

Jane, You have a gift for finding great stories on topics I’ve been thinking of. 🙂 I get that conflict and trouble of some kind makes for interesting fiction but some of the stories (or back stories of characters) of abuse and misery have become overdone and over-the-top. I’ve put more than one book down for good because of it. Remember the term “gratuitous violence?” I’m not sure that people even use it any more but many books seem to include awful stuff for “shock value.” I had started reading a book I liked and an excerpt of extreme childhood… Read more »

Gabriella L. Garlock

Cathy, you hit the nail on the head–if that image isn’t too violent! I read to learn as well as be entertained–by new places even in fiction, about myth and politics and exploration, and some of my favorite books do all this without agony or frantic emotion in every chapter. This topic has been at the fore for me as well. I’m tempted to classify my writing as lit fic to avoid the expectation of all this wringing drama in my story, but I’m afraid the expectations would be raised too much in other ways!

Vicki Weisfeld

This was such an interesting post from Carrie Brown. As a heavy reader and reviewer of crime novels and thrillers, it resonated, believe me! I recently re-watched Sense and Sensibility and the whole idea of using unhappiness to understand happiness–and vice-versa–is prominent in that classic. You inspired me to write about this on my own website today! vweisfeld.com/?p=5613, in a post titled “Where’s the Happy?” Thank you, Jane, for bringing it to your readers’ attention!


Thanks for drawing my attention to Carrie’s piece. We do tend to think about drama and conflict a lot due to the kind of momentum it can create but humour and whimsy and general levity definitely have their place.