Monday, November 30, 2015

Creating Story by Using the Three Levels of Conflict

If I can write a book, you can write a book. This article just offers a few tips to help you explore your own creative gifts.

When writing, I’ve always found it helpful to understand the vast majority of all fictional plots boils down to a struggle to achieve a goal. A protagonist or hero has an object of desire that is material or situational. Maybe they want to get a rare item or get into a relationship with a particular person. To get what she wants, your heroine has to exert effort against everything that stands between her and her goal. The power and intensity of her obstacles will define both your heroine and the strength of your story. But where do those obstacles come from and how can we build them into the story in a way that tests the heroine in the most satisfying manner for readers?

I’ve found one answer in playing with the different levels of conflict.

Three Levels of Conflict
A level of conflict is a source of antagonism that stands between your protagonist and their goal. Robert McKee's book Story defines three major levels of conflict:
  • Internal: where the thoughts, feelings or physical characteristics of a protagonist block achievement of the goal
  • Interpersonal: where relationships with other people or groups block achievement
  • Extra-personal: where institutions, natural phenomenon and situations block achievement

As an example, let's say you're writing a story about a Jewish boy living in Jerusalem. He has just seen a beautiful Arab girl and in that moment realizes he’s in love. What obstacles does Adam face in his quest for a relationship? As a writer, you have several options:
  • Internal: His shyness, lack of experience with women and unattractive features could get in the way of his budding romance. 
  • Interpersonal: The girl might resist his advances for her own reasons, or she might have a boyfriend who wants to remove him from the picture. Also, his parents could try to prevent him from getting involved with an Arab girl. The girl's brothers might threaten him with violence.  His own friends might reject him.
  • Extra-personal: The wider Arab Israeli conflict could also inhibit our hero. Hezbollah bombings into the settlements could disrupt Adam's life or create a curfew situation. A suicide bomb could destroy everything or even kill the girl. Protests, strikes or other mass social events could tear their relationship apart before it even gets started.

This is just a few examples of what this boy might be up against. If he is able to win this girl's love, the obstacles he'll have to overcome could make an amazing story.

The type you choose is often a function of genre. An action adventure might have heavy interpersonal and extra personal conflict when the hero battles the arch villain on the top of a mountain in a blinding snow storm, but very little internal conflict. A cozy mystery might have strong internal focus as the detective quietly strains her intellect to solve the crime. Every style of writing can tap into each type of conflict, but some genres lend themselves to specific conflict types.

Conflict as Spotlight

The best way I've found to develop conflict in my work is to focus on the aspects of my protagonist that I want to reveal and then creating conflicts that explore those traits. One of my main characters in my new novel Smoke and Shadow is a man named Harrison Trent. At the most basic level, Harrison’s conflict is internal. He wants to forget the mistakes he’s made in his past and he is willing to place himself in extreme danger because the immediacy of a life and death struggle is the only way he can forget the things he’s done. To show his dedication to this goal, I put several obstacles in his path every time he steps into the readers mind.

The best stories have the strongest conflicts. While it's not necessary to throw every obstacle at every character in every story, a weak story is most often the result of weak antagonists. Pit your heroine against the strongest combination of antagonism that you can think of. Your characters will hate it, but your readers will thank you for it.

Now go write something. ;-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I Have Three Ways to Say "Thank You"

I appreciate you. 
You visit my website, and you indulge my delusions of being a writer. Those things have more of an impact on me than you might realize.  
As a small way of saying thank you, I’d like to offer you not one, not two, but three gifts to celebrate the release of my new novel, Smoke and Shadow.  
First, you can get a copy of my new novella called Friends and Family just by contacting me. Friends and Family is a prelude to Smoke and Shadow. It follows a professional killer named Harrison Trent in his hunt for a slave trader in New York City.
Second, I’d like to give you early access to Smoke and Shadow. You can pre-order the book on Amazon before it goes on sale Tuesday, November 17th.
Finally, you can get Smoke and Shadow at a special RSVP price. The normal price for the e-book is $3.99. You can get it for just $0.99. 
If you get a chance to read the prelude or the full novel, I hope you’ll enjoy them. I also hope you’ll take the time to write me a review no matter what you think of the book. Your opinion matters. If the attachments or the links don’t work, please let me know and I’ll take care of it.
And if you want to spend more time in the world of Crime and Passion, sign up for the free RSVP Newsletter. 
 Have fun.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A New Cover Reveal, a New Release Date and a New Promo Offer for My VIPs!

Please allow me to share the cover of my upcoming book, Smoke and Shadow.

Murder is their business…
In the dark world of espionage, Hamilton Chu and Harrison Trent are secret warriors. Driven by loyalty, excitement, and money, these modern mercenaries travel around the world to spy, sabotage and kill.

But how much of their humanity do they sacrifice with each turn of the knife or pull of the trigger? How can they succeed in missions they can't solve with violence alone?

Smoke and Shadow is an anthology series set in my Crime and Passion Universe. It is an international action thriller in a style similar to La Femme Nikita, Taken and the Bourne Identity.

Smoke and Shadow will be available on Amazon on Tuesday, November 17th 2015

If you’d like an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, please click here for more details.

If you’d like to take advantage of my $0.99 discount sale for all my other Crime and Passion books, visit my Amazon page before November 1st.

Have fun and thanks for reading.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Consequential Violence: The Impact of Combat in Fiction

The action and thriller genres rely on certain established tropes. The hero needs someone or something to protect. He (or in rare cases she) will define their individuality by being a lone wolf with no affiliation or being a rebel in an existing power structure. When it comes to physical prowess or combat skill, the hero will be placed in situations where they can to injure, maim and kill to show how badass they are. This is one of the pillars of action stories from The Odyssey to Spectre and it can be the best part of a story. But combat, fight scenes and violence lose their impact when they become inconsequential.

Defining Consequence defines consequence as:
  1. The effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier
  2. An act or instance of following something as an effect, result, or outcome.
  3. The conclusion reached by a line of reasoning; inference.
  4. Importance or significance
  5. Importance in rank or position; distinction:

In action and thriller fiction, violence often has no consequences for the characters or the hero. I’ve read a best-selling novel that started with a six man shootout in New York’s Central Park during the day in the 21st Century.  The hero moved through the plot without any acknowledgment of the effect that event would have. The cops never arrived and never investigated the event, even though there is a police precinct in Central Park and the surrounding area has a heavy police presence because of all the high priced real estate around. No one had any video of the incident, even though there are cameras in the Park and everyone has an iPhone. The hero was shot during the incident, but suffered no physical, mental or emotional impact from the incident. There was no mention of any news story about a massive gun battle in the middle of the most famous park in New York City. This lack of consequence gnawed at me until I was forced to put the book down because I couldn’t suspend enough of my disbelief to keep reading.

Exploring Consequence

In real life of course, violence has consequences for everyone involved. Books like Violence: A Writer’s Guide, Real World Self Defense, On Combat and the Writing Violence series discuss the consequences of violence in depth, but in broad strokes physical combat can affect a character’s

  •          Mental facilities: people often see and perceive the world in a different way after a violent encounter. Depending on the situation, their view of the world, other people and themselves can undergo profound change. This can happen whether they win or lose.
  •          Emotional well-being: We have learned a lot in recent years about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on people who go through violent encounters. It doesn’t just impact soldiers engaged in drawn out conflict. PTSD can hit anyone involved in any number of encounters. It should also be noted that some people react in the opposite way, developing emotional frameworks that seek out and enjoy violence.
  •          Physical health: It might be obvious to say violence often hurts and can sometimes kill, but when reading action novels or watching action movies, this reality is often ignored. Characters can be shot, stabbed, beaten and bruised in one scene and restored to full health in the next. I know people who have suffered long term injuries in the relative safety of practice. Why ignore all those realities in fiction?
  •          Legal Status: Most types of violence are officially illegal in most countries of the world. People who engage in violent acts can easily face arrest, prosecution and prison for something as simple as a street fight. The more over the top and bloody the encounter, the more likely the police will be to get involved, and the legalities of “self-defense” usually don’t protect people who willingly participate in violence
  •          Social Status: Different segments of society react to violence in different ways. While a shoving match at a high society party might send someone into exile, a friendly fistfight might not even be remembered the next day in another part of the city or country. In either case, if the event is in public it probably won’t go unnoticed or undocumented in the modern world. Just type in “street fight” or “fist fight” in YouTube to see what I mean. In addition, the “winner” and ‘loser” of the fight will have to deal with the repercussions of their actions in their social circles, whether they are positive or negative.
  •          Daily lifestyle: Violence often creates more violence. The winner of a fight today might find himself hunted by the loser, or his friends, or his company, or his country depending on the importance of the loser. The winner of a fight might find himself constantly looking over his shoulder for the revenge attack. In the worst case scenario, he might not be able to ever go home again.
  •          Financial Status: Between doctor bills, legal bills, psychology bills and protecting against future attacks, the cost of violence in dollars and cents can cause more long term damage than the physical beating. People have been bankrupted by violent encounters even if they won and even if they were exonerated in court.

Consequence in Story

Barry Eisler is one of my favorite writers and his style inspires my own work when it comes to depicting violence. The John Rain Series is full of violent scenes, but consequence always plays an important role before and after the fight. Mr. Eisler’s characters often spend most of the novel trying to anticipate, eliminate or reduce the impact of impending violence, creating a tension few other writers can create.

In my next book, Smoke and Shadow, I tell stories of two combat operators and their missions against warlords, slave traders and insurgents. In each novella, the characters take the time to plot, plan and prepare for what might go wrong in their violent encounters. I hope the result creates a dynamic both interesting and realistic.

The Truth about Fiction

Not every story benefits from complex portrayals of violence. Part of the fun of a James Bond or superhero film is ignoring legal and emotional realities for a few hours. But some stories and characters can be enhanced and improved if their violent actions had more consequences.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have fun.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Smoke and Shadow: Get It First. Get It Free

The members of my VIP mailing list and the community of book reviewers are an important part of modern publishing. Getting noticed by passionate readers can mean the difference between broad popularity and a lonely unnoticed release. I’m planning to launch a new book right before the holidays, so I’d like to reach out to thriller readers like you and offer and advanced copy of my book.

What’s This Book About?

Smoke and Shadow is an anthology series set in my Crime and Passion Universe. It is an international action thriller in a style similar to La Femme Nikita, Taken and the Bourne Identity. Here’s the description I plan to put on the back of the book:

You'll never see them coming...

In the dark world of espionage, Hamilton Chu and Harrison Trent are secret warriors. Driven by loyalty, excitement, and money, these modern mercenaries travel around the world to spy, sabotage and kill.

But how much of their humanity do they sacrifice with each turn of the knife or pull of the trigger? How can they cope with missions they can't solve with violence alone?

If this story sounds like something you might be interested in, then I’d like to give you the e-book before anyone else gets it and without paying any money.

What Do I Want?

I would like to ask you a favor in exchange for the free book. Reviews drive popularity and sales on Amazon, so the more reviews I can get, the more financially successful the book can be. I hope if I give you Smoke and Shadow free upfront, you’ll be nice enough to write me a review when you’re done. It doesn’t have to be a five star review (although those are always nice), it just needs to be what you think.

How Do I Get The Book?

If you want an advanced review copy of Smoke and Shadow in exchange for an Amazon review, please send an email to before November 20, 2015 and I’ll add you to the list.

And if you want to spend more time in the world of Crime and Passion, sign up for the free RSVP Newsletter. 

Thanks in advance for taking the time to experience my work. I hope you enjoy the story.

Have fun.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Please Allow Me to Re-introduce Myself

By Gamal Hennessy

At some point, I invited you to go on a trip.

I promised to take you away from your daily grind and guide you through a world of crime and passion. I offered you a ticket to action, espionage and seduction. I wrote three novels and half a dozen short stories of the best work I could create. You rewarded me with your time and attention.

            Then life got in the way.

            Personal, professional and financial realities cut me off from my fictional journeys. They also prevented me from staying in contact with you since late Spring. I apologize for stopping the trip in such an abrupt fashion, but I’d like to make it up to all of you in two ways.

            First, I’m going to make all the books in the Crime and Passion series available on Amazon for $0.99 each for the next thirty days, including my full length novels:

If you haven’t had a chance to sample some of my work yet, I hope you’ll take advantage of this 75% off sale to step into my world.

            Second, I plan to have a series of bi-weekly posts leading up to the release of my next novel in November about the role violence plays in being a writer. I hope these essays lure you back into the world of crime and passion and all the other work I plan to create.

            I know one less email doesn’t make much difference in your busy life, but I also know everyone can use a break from real life once in a while. If you’re willing to keep hearing from me, I’ll try to make the trip worthwhile.

            If you’ve got any questions, comments or observations, please let me know. I enjoy hearing from you.

            Have fun.


If you want to spend more time in the world of Crime and Passion, sign up for the free RSVP Newsletter.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Slave Ship: A Book Review

I’m developing a science fiction novel about slavery called Humanity’s Fall. The basic concept is Twelve Years a Slave meets Star Trek and follows the ordeal of one woman ripped from her brownstone in Brooklyn and thrust into the belly of a ship to be sold on the other side of the galaxy. The research for this book includes several sources exploring the impact of the Middle Passage including well-known works like Roots and Amistad to more general books like The African Slave Trade and Still I Rise. But as I get ready to write the first draft of Humanity’s Fall, I think the book Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker will have the most impact on my story.

Slave Ship looks at the mechanism of African slavery; the ships and men who captured, bought, confined, tortured, killed and sold millions of people over the course of three centuries. It explores in depth the functioning of the ship, examining the vehicle of the Middle Passage from several viewpoints. The slave ship is seen as:
  • An investment for speculative European businessmen
  • A debt prison for unwary sailors
  • A marketplace for Africans selling slaves
  • A prison for Africans captured
  • A cemetery for slaves and crew killed in the journey
  • A factory for the creation of slaves
  • A battleground for slave inter slave conflict and collective rebellion
  • An incubator for the concept of race
  • A communal space for the creation of shared kinship
  • A symbol of evil for abolitionists

Rediker breaks down the Middle Passage in stages, showing how ships were commissioned and purchased, how captains and crews were formed, the process of buying people, attempting to simultaneously break their spirit but keep their bodies intact for sale, the successful and unsuccessful attempts to escape, overthrow or commit suicide and the complex social relationships spending months on the ship would create. By drawing a historical and narrative thread from the people most distant from the process (who gained the most wealth) to the people most suffered the most intimate pain and lost the most, Slave Ship makes an argument for the ship itself to be one of the most influential and at the same time most ignored elements of social development in America.

I read this book during the surge in media coverage over unarmed black men being killed in various parts of the country and the groundswell of racism playing out in various levels of society. In light of this reality and against the backdrop of building my own novel, I began to see parallels between our own time and the collective experience of the slave ship. It was easy to see the bankers and billionaires as the distant businessmen, too far removed from the process to have any interest in it beyond their profit. The police became the sailors and reluctant prison guards. The minority communities become the slaves and the incubator, factory, marketplace and communal space of the ship became the spaces we inhabit now, on and offline. The ship came to represent so much of the American experience, it became easy, perhaps clich├ęd, to imagine America as a slave ship we are all trapped on. Slave Ship will have a lasting impact on me, not just for the inspiration it provides for my work, but in the way I perceive the world I live in.

Have fun.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Start Your Summer with Crime and Passion

I’m kicking off the Summer of 2015 with a special sale of the entire Crime and Passion catalog. From Friday, May 22nd to Tuesday, May 26th all my full-length novels will be on sale in the Amazon Kindle store for just 99 cents.

The Crime and Passion series is adult crime fiction for fans who want to explore the darker side of life. There are three novels in the series so far, but each can be read on its own.

Smooth Operator is Pulp Fiction meets the Usual Suspects on the streets of New York after dark.

A Taste of Honey is Basic Instinct meets Casino Royale in the high society of Argentina.

A Touch of Honey is The Wire with a sadistic love triangle playing out deep in New York nightlife.

All three novels have great reviews and normally cost $3.99 each. You’ll be able to celebrate Memorial Day and save 75% off the cover price.

I hope you enjoy your summer and all the books.

Have fun.