The Conflict Resolution Cycle

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at a strategy for prewriting your novel. It’s the perfect way to get all ready for JuNoWriMo and to fight off that first bout of writer’s block that threatens to strike by way of the blank page.

Even better than that, I’ve found that doing prewriting for my novels gets me all amped up about my story in a very effective way. It gets me excited about my novel and shoots me with that burst of energy to take off at high speeds when June 1st hits.

Here’s Aaron Pogue with the latest in the series.

Aaron Pogue


Today we’re moving on to the Conflict Resolution Cycle worksheet. It’s a questionnaire/assignment I cooked up a couple years back to force a writer through the questions necessary to convert a story idea into an actual narrative.

Most of the questions explain themselves, so instead of opening with a big long introduction, I’m just going to dive right in.

The Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet (Creative Writing Exercise)

This worksheet takes a little serious consideration, but the writing part shouldn’t take much time. I’d recommend reading it over start to finish, then giving yourself a day to think about it, and then going through it once more filling in the answers in order.

If you don’t have an answer for a section, make it up. Just like your Mock ToC, none of this is set in stone. Having something is better than nothing — it gives you a starting point to work from, anyway.

Now…let’s get started.

1. Protagonist

Describe your protagonist. If you have already created Character Descriptions for your story (that was one step that didn’t get its own article), then you can simply state which of the characters is your protagonist. Otherwise, on a separate page describe a Protagonist character in the level of detail required for one of your Main Characters from that step.

In addition, give a brief description of the protagonist’s day-to-day life before the story starts. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be the life that the character has come to expect. A born loser sort of character could have his life disrupted by a sudden, profound winning streak just as easily as a spoiled rich kid could be impacted by an unexpected series of unfortunate events.

Here, just describe what the character has come to expect out of life, before the Big Event.

2. The Big Event

Choose a Big Event for your story. Pretend it’s going to happen on page one. What happens that throws your character out of his normal life, and into a story?

3. The Conflict

You need to describe this separately so you can differentiate the two in your head. The Big Event could be over by the end of the first page, but the story goes on. What effect does the Big Event have in the character’s life, and why does that effect drive the character to action?

4. The Obstacles

List five obstacles the protagonist will have to overcome, following the Big Event, to achieve Resolution. Limit your description of each obstacle to 1-2 sentences. Start with the first obstacle you expect your character to face, and end with the last one. (The rest can come in any order.) Your final story may have three obstacles in it. It may have three hundred. For this exercise, just pick five possible obstacles the character could encounter.

Of the five, choose which one do you think will be the biggest. Is it the first? Is it the last? Why?

5. The Climax

The protagonist’s resolution of the final obstacle is called the Climax. Briefly describe the manner in which the protagonistmight overcome that obstacle, and briefly (1-2 sentences) analyze how dramatic you think that scene will come across to readers.

6. The Resolution

You don’t need to describe the Resolution itself. When the protagonist overcomes his final obstacle, the Conflict you described earlier will be removed from his life or negated as a driving force. Instead, consider (in 3-5 sentences) the emotional impact you think the Resolution should have on readers. Happiness? Depression? Satisfaction? Curiosity? Bewilderment?

Start by considering the emotional impact the Climax will have on the protagonist, and consider the reader’s relationship to the protagonist. Describe the effect you intend.

7. The Story

When you have completed this worksheet (and only then) reread your answers to this assignment, and consider how your story falls within the definition of a story given above, paying special attention to the purpose of Conflict Resolution Cycle and the maxim, “get in late, get out early.” How do you think your story matches up against these instructions? Don’t be too negative in your evaluation, but if you find places in your story that don’t match the instructions given, make notes of those for future review.

If you’re trying to get everything done in time for JuNoWriMo, you need to get this one out of the way. When you’re finished, put together a short plot synopsis. (We won’t cover this one in the series).


Come back tomorrow for Aaron’s next post on narrative scenes.

Related Posts:

On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents

On Narrative Structure: Outlines

JuNoWriMo Features Authors and YOU

4 Replies to “The Conflict Resolution Cycle”

  1. I just started this and it works so much better than going blind writing. With a list, you know what you want to write when you sit down in front of your computer. Thank you

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