Monday, June 17, 2024

Character and Conflict and Plot by Dan Baldwin


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When asked, “Where do I start my novel? How do I get things moving?” I respond with, “Start with character and you’ll find the conflict.” 

Character and conflict are the key elements in beginning a work and in keeping the reader’s interest piqued all the way through to “The End.” Everything flows from character. Conflict keeps that motion moving forward. 

The Bad Guy. In the first of my Ashley Hayes thrillers, the villain is Clovis Bassett, a white guy who thinks he is a Caddo Indian god. One of the joys of writing that novel was entering into an insane mind. (I have been told that I have a good grasp of the criminal mind. I think that was a compliment.) Bassett is more than nuts; he’s a serial killer. 

His Conflict is his inability to remember “The Place of Crying.” This is a real place in Arkansas where Caddo lore says the tribe emerged from the Earth’s interior. It’s a hill overlooking the Red River. Bassett believes he has to enter the earth at this place, become reborn, and return to rule as an angry god. He can’t “remember” this location, which sends him on a bloody quest to find it. 

The Good Guy. Detective Herbert Eugene “Bummer” LaSalle is a cop looking for the serial killer. Bummer is an overweight, aging, nearly-burnt-out cop. His Conflict is, obviously, finding the bad guy. A secondary conflict is with himself, primarily focused on his aging. 

The Heroine. Ashley Maud “Ash” Hayes is an archaeology professor and an expert on the Caddo Indians. Additionally, she is an expert in wilderness survival. She studies survivalist techniques as a teaching aid. “Learn about ancient man by learning how he lived,” she says. 

 Her Conflict. Ash studies and espouses European contact throughout the Americas prior to Columbus. This is the initial conflict the reader encounters. When LaSalle brings her in to help find Bassett because he believes she can “think Indian,” the detective’s conflict becomes her conflict, too. 

That’s how I begin a novel. The characters grab my attention. They tell me about their lives and their conflicts. Trust me, their lives and conflicts are far more interesting than anything I could make up on my own. When they start talking, I start writing. That’s it. 

“Er, Dan?” 


“What about plot?” 

“If you have characters and conflict, you don’t need a plot. Just listen to those characters and follow their lead.” 

For inspiration and more tips, go to and 

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. — Thomas Jefferson 

About the author: Dan Baldwin is the author of westerns, mysteries, thrillers, short story collections and books on the paranormal. He is the winner of numerous local, regional, and national awards for writing and directing film and video projects. He earned an Honorable Mention from the Society of Southwestern Authors writing competition for his short story Flat Busted and a Finalist designation from the National Indie Excellence Awards for Trapp Canyon and Caldera III – A Man of Blood.

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