Tag Archive | Conflict

Motto vs Personality Type

Character motto is derived from your character’s backstory. It’s how your character views the world and is a wonderful tool to use to create conflict among your characters (see chart below).

If the Heroine’s motto is “Don’t Rock the Boat” while the hero’s motto is “Might Makes Right” there’s going to be conflict.

But by pitting these two personalities together, the “Don’t Rock the Boat” character can learn that sometimes you must employ the “Might Makes Right” motto to find inner peace.

Motto is the key to developing your character’s growth arc and defines what the character must learn during the black moment to change this view.  Author Susan Gable gives several great examples in her blog titled, “What’s the Motto with Your Character?

According to the Enneagram, there are nine personalities that exist. And each of those personalities has a different philosophy of the world and a unique motto, although mottos can be expressed in infinite ways.

Let’s take the Peacemaker (Personality Type 9) for example. According to her backstory, she’s learned that it’s not okay to assert herself. Her motto’s can be expressed as:

  • “Don’t Rock the Boat”
  • “Slow and Steady”
  • “Keep the Peace” and also
  • “Love Makes the World Go Around”

The Peacemaker avoids conflict at all costs by minimizing stressful situations, even if that conflict becomes damaging to herself and others. During her black moment, she’ll need to discover that the only way she’s going to find inner peace of mind is by confronting her fear of loss and separation. In other words, the only way out is through. Her motto might change to “Sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns.”

This revised motto will give the Peacemaker strength to resolve the story after the black moment. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, specifically Fotoula Portokalos the main character, is an excellent example of the Peacemaker’s growth arc.

Use your character’s motto to control a scene. Remember that a person reacts to every situation by pulling from experience (backstory) and their world philosophy.

In the Motto vs Personality Type  (pdf) and the chart below, I’ve set up a situation where a resident of a small community loses his dog. Each neighbor helping to search for the dog goes about this task according to their motto. Healthy personalities will tend to respond in a more positive motto (see Strengths) while unhealthy personalities will tend to respond in a more negative motto (see Flaws).

I hope this chart helps you understand the connection between your character’s motto and their personality type.  If you want read more on character’s motto, see my previous blog on Character Motto.

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Catalyst vs Inciting Incident

What comes first, the Catalyst or the Inciting Incident? Are they the same thing? Different?

Let’s see:

By definition:

A Catalyst is something that brings about an event.

An Inciting Incident is a single event that provokes change.

Put together. The Catalyst brings about the Inciting Incident that provokes change.

Clearly they are different. However, as I’ve studied structure, I’ve seen these words transposed, renamed, and altered completely. How they are labeled has no bearing on order. The point is to make sure that your writing includes both, beginning with the Catalyst.

Need a deeper understanding? Imagine a timeline for your main character (MC).

He’s born, has a childhood where he develops coping mechanisms for survival against the world (See Blog on Conflict in Fiction). In his youth, he begins to believe lies about himself, whether self-generated or told to him purposefully.

Then he enters adulthood with twisted beliefs and bad habits and tics. These are your MC’s flaws that the writer must SHOW during the first 10% of the story. Review any well structured book or movie and you will notice the MC’s flaws in the first 10%.

These flaws are also the obstacles (result of the backstory) that you’ll have to make obvious to your MC by making him face the crisis/catharsis routine until he sees how his flaws are killing his chances to obtain his goal. By changing, only then will your MC obtain his goal.

The Catalyst, therefore, is the result of the backstory, and that which has led your MC to develop flaws he’ll need to overcome in the story. The Catalyst precedes the Inciting Incident.

The Inciting Incident is the first time your MC will have the opportunity to begin a journey to overcome his flaw(s). The Inciting incident is when something BIG happens, big enough to jerk your MC out of the water and say to him, look? If you want X, then you’re going to have to change Y and make a decision to move forward into the new world.

Of course your MC will flounder around for a while on this new path. He’ll resist changing. He’ll make things worse, until finally he realizes that his flaws are keeping him from obtaining his goal. And, again, your MC’s decision to change is the only way he’s going to get what he wants.

Point is: The Catalyst brings about an opportunity to change from the old world to a new world. The Inciting Incident provokes your MC into action—a journey—into this new world and gives him the opportunity to overcome his flaw and achieve their goal.

Hope this helps. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Conflict in Fiction

Conflict is defined as the opposition between two forces. In fiction, that conflict shapes or motivates the action of the plot, by separating the character from obtaining his goal.  Only by introducing conflict can the character change and grow.

 Types of Conflict:

  • Man vs Self (Protagonist’s will, confusion, fear)
  • Man vs Man (Antagonist)
  • Man vs Nature (Physical world including all natural phenomena and living things)
  • Man vs Society (Structured community bound together by similar traditions, institutions, or nationality)
  • Man vs Fate (The force or principle believed to predetermine events)
  • Man vs God (The being believed in monotheistic religions to be the all-powerful all-knowing creator of the universe, worshiped as the only God
  • Man vs god (one of a group of supernatural male beings in other religions, each of which is worshiped as the personification or controller of some aspect of the universe)
  • Man vs Technology (machines, equipment, and systems considered as a unit)
  • Man vs Supernatural (phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws)

Your part as a writer is to make your character’s deep yearning (Desire) strong enough so that they stand up to the conflicts separating them from their goal, leaving the reader rooting for the success of the protagonist (could be failure, too).  The idea is to get the reader to invest in your story and to do that you need conflict. According to Blake Snyder, in Save the Cat, the “primal urges get our attention. Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, fear of death grab us.”


Daphne (Protagonist), who’s leery about sailing because she got caught up in the ropes as a child (backstory and what she needs to change to grow), watches her sister’s sailboat competition from the shoreline. Her sister, Selena, is winning and it looks like they won’t lose the deed to their estate to bank owner Beck Larson (Antagonist and Man vs Man). Suddenly Selena’s sailboat mast snaps in half, tossing her into the sea (Man vs Technology). Normally, Daphne wouldn’t be worried. Selena is a good swimmer and wearing her life vest. Only this time, none of the other competitors have noticed Selena’s sailboat is without a captain, and they’re heading straight for her (Man vs Society). Daphne jumps onto a watercraft and jets after her sister. Daphne’s not wearing a life vest and isn’t as good a swimmer (Man vs Self), but Selena’s barely past the reef. Unfortunately, Daphne’s watercraft sputters—she’s picked the vessel without fuel, leaving her drifting further from her sister (Man vs Fate). Seeing she still has time before the other sailboats reach her sister, Daphne grabs the red flag from the watercraft and dives into the water, but the current is stronger than she’s realized (Man vs Nature). Fear floods her and, for a moment, she stops swimming, fearing she won’t reach her sister in time (Man vs Self). Finally, she swims faster than she’s ever swum and reaches her sister. Only she’s too weak to lift the flag and her sister’s life vest won’t keep them both afloat for long.

Story Question:  Will Daphne save her sister?

 Story Answer: Nope. Not until the resolution at the end of the book, because this is fiction.

As a romance, the story might go/end like this:

Beck (Antagonist)  is standing on the shoreline watching the drama. He’s inspired by Daphne’s courage and rescues them both. Then (after 300 more pages of conflict between the Beck and Daphne that you as a writer must develop) during the climax Daphne finally saves her sister from another race disaster by joining as a crew member, now that she’s taken sailing lessons and understands sailing (changed). They win the race. Daphne delivers the winnings (money) to the bank expecting to see Beck at the front desk, but discovers he no longer works for the company but had paid off  the sisters’ bank deed when he’d left.  Confronting Beck, Daphne learns that his grandparents died during the depression because of a company like the one he’d left, leaving his mother homeless. He won’t see another family destroyed (protection of loved ones) by a ruthless company (Society). They go on their first date.

By giving your protagonist a primal desire and adding conflict to keep your protagonist from obtaining their goal, you’ll be able to force your protagonist to grow and change, until they obtain their true goal in the resolution.  And keep your readers turning pages and begging for more.

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

One Sentence Hook – Adding and Creating Conflict

By studying examples of one sentence hooks, I’ve found a similarity that ties them together. Each sentence has four elements that can be broken into the following formula (Cyndi’s Tip Sheet – One Sentence Hook Sheet)

Character Flaw + Character Job + Action + Goal

Creating the elements can be shown as follows, but keep in mind that when you design your sentence (pitch-hook) you will want to use the character that has the most to lose in your story. This method can also be used in developing secondary characters.

Where to start (example):

Question: Publicly, how does your hero act?

Answer: Extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous.

Using the Enneagram Institute’s description of personality types, he must be The Enthusiast (#7).

As a #7, his basic fear is: Of being deprived and in pain.

Now go back into the Enneagram and read what happens to a character when they are at their worst (Level 9) and pick a character flaw.

Character flaw: Claustrophobia

Using the flaw of claustrophobia, create a one sentence backstory to explain why he fears confined spaces (what caused him in his past to dreadfully fear being confined – deprived and in pain?):

Backstory Example: He fell into an abandoned water well when he was six years old, broke his arm as a result of the fall, and wasn’t rescued for three days.

Okay, now that we know why he’s terrified of confined spaces, make him revisit his fear of being trapped to get his goal. This is the Action tag.

Action: He descends into a Yucatan cenote (underground cavern spring).

Next, we need to find out what his goal is.

Question: What would my character find in a cenote?

Answer: Fish, eels, snakes, some legendary albino crocodile.

Now assign him a story goal.

Goal: To prove existence of a legendary albino crocodile.

We’re almost done.

Your character needs a unique job and one that only he can do to get to his goal—otherwise any character could descend into the cenote and return with his crocodile.

If your character is going after the legendary crocodile, he might be one who study reptiles.

Job: a Herpetologist (someone who studies reptiles).

Finally, restate the one sentence story summary with all the elements in order and you’ve got your one sentence pitch or hook that’s FULL OF CONFLICT. (Try to keep your sentence to fewer than fifteen words).

A claustrophobic herpetologist descends into a Yucatan cenote to prove a legendary albino crocodile’s existence.

Add prior to this hook a well-known visual when pitching for a SUPER VISUAL HOOK:

In my Avatar meets Romancing the Stone contemporary romantic comedy, a claustrophobic herptologist descends into a Yucatan cenote to prove a legendary albino crocodile’s existence .  

Additional step for fun:

Go back into the Enneagram and read what happens to a character when they are at their best (Level 1).

Character Attribute: Become awed by the simple wonders of life.

This is what will happen at the end of your story–your character will become awed by the simple wonders of life. If you are writing a romance or HEA (happily ever after), he will discover the rare crock, but, perhaps, omit that fact to protect the beast from being hunted further. He will simply be too fascinated by the discovery . . . and he’ll get the girl, of course.

I’d love to read some of your examples using this method and hope this example removes some of the mystery out of creating the perfect hook.

Happy writing, Cyndi Faria

Creating and Intensifying Emotion

Creating and intensifying emotion in a fictional scene can be done by introducing action, tools, point of view (POV), word choices, atmosphere , complications, and disaster.

Remember each scene needs to have a goal, motivation, internal conflict, external conflict, and end in disaster.

BARE BONES EXAMPLE: Similar to a first draft.

He walked down the alley. As he approached the girl he followed, he grabbed her and bit her neck. She tasted badly, and he pulled back. He shoved her into the light. She was the wrong girl, but he was hungry.

Now, add layers to the scene.

  1. Set the scene with action.
  2. Make the POV character desperate and LIKEABLE, even if he’s the villain.
  3. Give him a tool (doesn’t have to be an object)
  4. Name the POV character and have him meld with this tool.
  5. Add complications and conflict
  6. End with a twist and disaster

EXAMPLE: (Remember order: Visceral Response, Physical Response, Internal Dialogue (deep third), and then Speech.

Storm clouds blanketed the moonless night as he slithered against the alley’s brick wall. With the glow of the porch lights staggered, he darted from shadow to shadow with each gust of wind. Like a ghost, he inched closer to the woman he wanted.

His retracted incisors ached with desire to plunge into her milky flesh. She was the only woman on earth that satisfied his desperate thirst. She was the only woman who could save him from losing his humanity, but he’d waited too long to feed.

His vampire nature owned him.

Her floral scent coiled around him. She was close. A step away.

Like thunder, her heart pounded in his ears.

Sweat flushed over his body in a sickening rush of orgasmic weakness.

Sampson’s incisors pierced his gums as they lengthened, lubricating in his saliva, and he winced from pain.

He would taste her. Tonight.

Surging forward, his hand slipped over her mouth, trapping her scream. With lightning precision, he stabbed through her supple skin straight into her jugular. Blood roared into his mouth like a waterfall, but tonic-bitterness filled his throat.

He reeled back, but then forced her thrashing body into the threshold’s orange glow. Her wide eyes were brown, not blue, and frozen on him. Her punctured skin cried crimson tears from the holes he’d placed.

She wasn’t just the wrong girl, she was the police chief’s daughter, but he was starving.

(If this story were to continue, and the victim live, we might make the victim a cop herself who goes after her attacker or we can have her father avenge his daughter.  We also might have the girl he’s actually hunting witness his attack, which explains why he can smell and hear her vitals. Maybe his girl (heroine) is a vampire hunter (more conflict) hunting or protecting him (hero).)

Reread the sample and notice the following:

  1. Goal: He wanted a certain woman.
  2. Motivation: He’s starving. (Desire to be human)
  3. Internal Conflict: She makes him feel weak. He fears losing his humanity.
  4. External Conflict: Porch lighting. He can only move with gust of wind, she’s screaming and thrashing.
  5. Disaster: She’s the wrong girl, but he was starving.
  6. Sequel could be his girl (love interest-heroine) reacting to his inhumanity, questioning her connection to him (ultimate hero, not villan), and making a decision to flee from him.

 Also notice:

  1. Word choices for Samson: Slithered, darted, sexual tags, stabbed, roared.
  2. Word choices for the woman he thinks he’s following: Milky flesh, floral, supple
  3. The atmosphere is dark and stormy.
  4. Notice his weakness to her is visceral.
  5. Tighten their connection: she is the only woman on earth who can save him from losing his humanity.
  6. Heighten tension by restating his goal using short sentences or commands. Would taste her. Tonight.
  7. Add tools: His incisors
  8. Add complications:
  • He has to wait until the wind blows to move from shadow to shadow.
  • Victim screams.
  • Victim thrashes. 
  • She tastes wrong.
      9.   Disaster:
  • He exposes himself to her to see who she is.
  • She’s the police chief’s daughter.
  • He’s starving and attacks her anyway.

September’s Topic:  Five Act Structure demystified.

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Taking the Mystery Out of Goal and Motivation

A great novel engages the reader by showing the characters in some type of predicament right from the start. This situation must be intriguing enough to seat the reader in the scene and keep them cheering for that character’s success until the very last page.

Challenging for the writer? Absolutely.

Why? Because the reader MUST CARE about the character on a personal level.  The story must be relatable (See Virna Depaul ’s Cheat-Sheet on the  Relatable Concept).

Pre-blog warm-up:

Where to begin:

Your characters are born with a unique personality. The Enneagram  is a personality method that spells out a person’s strengths and weakness. Applying this personality assessment to your characters means there’s little guessing on your part as the writer. Once you’ve nailed down what type of character you need for your story, you can start building their back story.


I used the Enneagram to describe Sarah. She’s a #6—committed, security-orientated type: engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.

  • Her Basic Fear: being without support and guidance.
  • Her Basic Desire (Motivation):  security and support.

How did she come to have these fears and desires? Trauma.

Sarah’s major trauma in her back story that caused her flaws (anxious, suspicious, etc.) goes something like this:

At five years old, buckled in the back seat of her mother’s van while her mother came to a stop at a red light, Sarah watched as her mother was pulled from the car in a car-jacking. She never saw her mother again. Her father was a workaholic, and she was left to raise herself.

This example supports why she fears being without support as well as explaining why she desires security.


Remember, events (wounds) morph into flaws and follow a person throughout their adult life. Changes can only occur when a person recognizes their flaws and makes a conscious effort to change their behavior to either accept or reject these flaws (Character Arc: Future Topic).


 Ready, set, blog…

As a writer, you must understand the concepts of Goal and Motivation for each of your characters.


Imagine for a moment that you are running a race.

Goal would be the finish line.

Motivation would be achieving the title of “winner” or receiving some fancy gold medal.

Now, dig deeper. Why are you running, and why do you want to win so badly? Is it to prove to your mother that you don’t give up no matter how much pain you’re in?That you’ll never walk away from your family like she did?

This is the true motivation of your character.

Throw in several hurdles, one where you fall and can’t finish the race and must watch from the sidelines (Black Moment: Future Topic). But you finally realize, with your kids by your side, you’re a great mom whether you win a race or not .

This is the key to understanding Goal and Motivation.

Put another way:

Motivation + Change = True Goal

Change = a series of disasters the flawed character must face and learn from. Only when they recognize they will never attain their goal unless they are willing to surrender everything will they come to understand that salvation has been in their control and can be found within themselves all along.

When do I introduce Goal and Motivation into my story?

I’ve heard within the first ten pages, but why not put it on the first page, the first paragraph, or even the first sentence?


Rainbow sherbet streamed across Sarah’s fingers like satin ribbons swirling a Maypole, never stopping to pause at her ring-less finger.

She sighed, releasing on her breath, “Diamonds don’t melt…”

Goal:  This shows Sarah’s longing for committment and a solid foundation. From the Enneagram example, we know she yearns for security and support. 


Her fundraising ice cream booth jiggled, and a man’s left hand swished a thick layer of $100 bills between his fingers in front of her on the counter.

She jogged her eyes from her hand to his, barely focusing on his hefty donation. Instead, she locked her gaze on his thick, calloused fingers—the kind molded by hard work, brute strength, and commitment.  Not micromanaging, like her father did. She rolled her eyes upward and found Blake Corbit—her father’s foreman, the one who’d been demoted for fighting on the job. “You stay away from him…” her father had preached. Not a chance.  Surely, Blake could empathize being chided by her father, and she needed an ally if she was ever going to assume her father’s role as president of Chester Developments. “Mr. Corbit, I didn’t get a chance to—”

“Blake.” He leaned his elbow against the counter. “No woman is going to be disrespected in front of me…ma’am.

Her heart swelled with the warmth of a thousand hugs. He’d stood up for her when her father had hung back, idle, while those men had made lewd comments—something about buttering her bread… What had her father expected her to do? Lash out? Cry? She never cried. She wiped her one hand on her apron, the other fondling the ice cream scoop. “How many scoops would you like, Mr. Cor — Blake?”

His dark lashes, cresting his blue eyes, dipped quickly before rising to hold her stare. His lips parted slightly and he leaned in closer. “All of them…ma’am.”

She swallowed slowly. Could he be her teammate? Would he be more? “Please, Blake, call me Sarah.”

Sarah’s Flaw:

She’s expecting someone else to come in and rescue her so she doesn’t have to stand up to her father (truly, so she doesn’t have to confront her mother’s death). What she’ll have to learn by the end of the novel is that she’s the only one who can come to terms with her past and confront her father. She’ll either accept her father for who he is or separate from their abusive relationship. Either decision will be right because she made the choice and someone else didn’t make the choice for her.

Goal and Motivation are key concepts to understand when you’re writing.  By using the combination of the Enneagram and back story, you can create three-dimensional characters that readers are sure to relate to.

Check back on June 1st for my next blog on how to create Likeable Characters—those characters your readers will remember and beg for more.

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 Happy writing, Cyndi Faria