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Journal of a novel: Aug. 17, 2016. Conflict

August 17, 2016

In a series of posts, I’ll share both Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel and what I learn from it, and I’ll show you what the writing life is like for me.

In his March 16, Journal of a Novel entry, John Steinbeck apologizes to his editor that his novel lacks tension.

that is exactly what I want and intend it to do. But it may cause trouble to you as a publisher because people have grown to expect tautness and constant action.

Decades later, little has changed. We writers are instructed to portray conflict in our work. Even Romances have to have conflict. Sure, there’s “boy meets girl” but shortly after that there’s “boy loses girl.” The rest of the story is boy winning girl back. I wonder, would a story that was “boy meets girl” followed by hundreds of pages of boy and girl get along fabulously with no problems and live happily ever after, be a bestseller? What do you think?

My works-in-progress this year are in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category. Conflict? No problem. What satisfying about reading (and writing) a story in which a crime is committed and the perpetrator caught is the restoration of order, of balance, after it’s been upset.

Steinbeck goes on to write:

If there isn’t shouting and jumping around it isn’t liked. For people seem to have lost the gift for listening. Maybe they never had it.


The admired books now were by no means the admired books of their day. I believe that Moby Dick, so much admired now, did not sell its first small first edition in ten years.

Was Melville simply ahead of his time? Was Steinbeck? I guess while we’re struggling to connect with our audience (which might not happen until after we’re dead), we’d best not give up that day job. (See yesterday’s post on Distraction.)

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