Wednesday, January 16

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 2 comments
Conflict should be at the core of what drives a story forward. Ah, but here's the rub: being conflict-averse and passive aggressive is far more common in real life than shouting matches, car chases and fisticuffs. Given the choice, most will flee from conflict rather than stay locked in it.

Unless there's glue.

In Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell gives one of the better explanations for this aspect of characterization he calls "adhesive." He defines it as "any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together" (81). In other words, adhesive is the compelling reason opposing parties can't just peaceably part ways.

© libertygrace0, Flickr Creative Commons
What's the strong reason for your lead to stick around? What keeps her going in spite of obstacles and motivates her to reassess and take new action with each set back? How about the antagonist? Why doesn't he just go pick on someone else?

Adhesive is usually found in the reasons behind your lead's pursuit of her goal and your antagonist's opposition of your lead. Bell lists some broad categories:

~Life and death. If the opponent has a strong reason to want to kill your lead, that's a powerful glue. Your lead's struggle to stay alive is a powerful motivation to keep on keeping on.

In some genres, fear of losing one's identity, autonomy or reason for living--in other words, fighting to escape a psychological death--are the driving force. The lead must change and grow or die inside.

~Professional duty. Readers can understand how a doctor won't give up on a patient, for example. Our professional lives are often tied up in our sense of purpose and reason for living. To fail professionally means a kind of psychological death.

~Moral duty. A husband whose wife and child are kidnapped won't sit idly by. Nor will a pastor who discovers one of his parishioners is being abused. To give up on doing the right thing would mean letting evil prevail--a spiritual death.

~Obsession. Someone who has lost touch with reality may become powerfully locked to something they desire--whether it's the celebrity they stalk, and object they believe will empower them or a family member they need to control and dominate.

~Physical location. This is a setting-based twist on the life-and-death adhesive. Opponents might become stuck in a place that would be more deadly to flee from than to stay in. Think of the family snowed in at the haunted hotel in The Shining.

What's the glue in your story conflict? How might the applying concept of adhesive make your story stronger?


  1. Great post, Laurel! I'm struggling with this right now in my current story. A big part of what is going on is life and death--but I need more to it, which is where I'm having a problem. It can't be one big cat/mouse chase.

  2. Nothing wrong with the main storyline being a life and death outrunning the bad guys. Most thrillers follow that structure. What you might need is to also work in some subplots and micro-tension through interpersonal relationships that help or hinder the main quest.