Conflict is the Cornerstone of a Novel - by James R. Callan

May 22, 2018 - 7:00pm -- Patty Wiseman

James Callan, novelistI am pleased to have Author James R. Callan as my guest author today. He's got a new book out and we are very excited about it! His topic is conflict in books and movies. His new book is called Political Dirty Trick.

Let's find out about Jim!

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He has had four non-fiction books published. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense. His twelfth book releases in May 2018.


Conflict is the cornerstone of a novel.

Now, you may think I am just talking about war novels, or maybe horror books where there is an evil force trying to subdue some group. Actually, I’m talking about all novels — at least, all novels worth reading. 

A romance novel isn't much good if there is no conflict, something that keeps the lovers apart. It might be something external, like a job, a war, a domineering parent, an incident in the past that haunts one (or both) of the two in love, or distance. It could be internal. In a movie with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere called The Runaway Bride, there is something in Maggie’s personality that causes her to run away from four weddings. That’s four of her own weddings. Until she sorts out that “conflict,” she can’t go through with a wedding. Conflict.

Of course, the conflict is usually evident in mysteries. Suspense and thriller novels make the conflict clear from the beginning.

But what about the more literary novels? Here, often the conflict is within one person. He or she has a problem. It could have come from outside or it could be manufactured within the person’s mind. In Hamlet, outside events are the root of the problem. But the real conflict is within Hamlet himself. His famous “To be, or not to be” speech lets us see the conflict he has within himself.

Comedies also must have conflict. In the movie Trading Places, two successful brokers force a switch between an executive and a street hustler. There is a serious conflict when their plot is discovered. But it is a very funny comedy.

In Westerns books, the conflict is always clear.

My latest suspense, Political Dirty Trick has four clear-cut conflicts. First, there is the conflict that arises in any election: two persons competing for the same job. But there is also an important conflict within the antagonist, Ginnie. She was raised, and lived, as a very law-abiding person. But she is convinced to cross over the line and commit a crime. Once she does, she is on a slippery slope and the conflict between good and bad doesn’t last long when she realizes how much she has to lose. At that point, her conflict switches toward the protagonist, Crystal. George, the man who got Ginnie involved is against violence. So we get a conflict between Ginnie and George. The D.A. is ambitious and a conviction in a high profile case would really give her a boost. The sheriff has no ambitions and he collides with the D.A. in the handling of the case.

Conflict. Most of us try to avoid those. Unless we are writing a book. Then, bring on the conflict.


Thanks to Author James R. Callan for sharing his insight and we congratulate him on his newest book, Political Dirty Trick.

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