Part I, here, and Part II, here. Some of us have to read things in order. Some of us don’t care. But I am an equal-opportunity blogger, so I’ll give you the choice of just skipping right to the juicy part. Um, this is the juicy part. Right here.
Don’t we hate it? I do. Hate it. I’d love to have a life free of it. But what makes peaceful life makes Exceedingly Boring Literature. Would you like to disagree? You are free to do so. I’ll wait.
Are you done yet?
Okay. You’re welcome.
So anyway, now that she’s done, we can get into this. Conflict allows your character to make choices and face consequences of everyone else’s choices. It’s kind of the gear around which all the action in our story spins. Some conflict is easy to spot, and pretty simple to create. Character A has a goal. He wants something. Character B wants the same thing. Only one of them can have it, because it is a thing in extremely limited supply. (Gold medal, first chair violin, That One Boy, ring of power, the last bite of chocolate cake*.)
One of them will win, but the conflicting desires drive the choices each makes**, and the consequences must follow.
In opposition to that, we have Character A wanting something, and Character B wanting him not to have it, so standing in his way. Playing defense. Blocking out.
Other conflicts are more psychological. Like internal conflicts. “I want this. But it’s bad for me. But I want it. But it hurts me. But I want it.” You know this? That kind of conflict can happen on every page in some books, because a character battles himself over every choice. “This is happening to me, and I don’t want it to, and I feel powerless to stop it, but I have to try.” Or maybe, “If I get both these things that I want, bad things will happen, by some mystery of physics. These two good things have some bizarre magnetic polarity business that will bring down the wrath of nature. But I want both these things so much that I’m willing to risk it. Maybe.”
Other conflicts are natural. Like the sun extinguishing, earthquakes, tornados, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
Oh, sorry. I got carried away.
But natural conflicts are a great place to start exploring the internal kinds. Anyone read Life as we Knew It? It makes me glad I have about a thousand pounds of wheat in my basement. And a great many chocolate chips. It has natural (or unnatural) conflict that leads to various internal and interpersonal conflicts. Because all manner of conflicts are needed to get and keep the story moving.
Think of a story you love. A conflict is probably at the heart of every choice. Even gentle stories, peaceful ones, have conflict that allows the characters to Do Stuff, make choices and fail and try again and fail some more and try again and fail and try again and fail for the last time, because there’s no way they can handle any more of this failure, and then suck it up and square the shoulders and try one last time and finally beat it. (Or not.)
Because here’s the thing. We create our characters. We love them, and fear them, and hope for them, and give them everything they need (except for the things we deprive them of) and when it comes right down to it, this writing business is a lot like parenting. Except less messy. A little. But with parenting, we shield the little humans from much of the difficult, unnecessary conflict that exists in the world. Because, you know what? Life is hard enough without that stuff. But when we write, we push them in. We even blindfold them sometimes, right before we push them, and we give them a little spin to throw them off. So maybe what I’m saying is that writing is a good way to burn off our psychotic desires.
Oh. Was that a little dramatic? Sorry.
But really? It’s necessary not to spare our character-children the friction that will polish them and make them shine.
In our next installment, we’re going to talk. You know, like as in Conversation. Stay tuned.
*Although, technically, there’s that Physics theory that says you can always cut the remaining distance (or piece of cake) in half, until immeasurably tiny halves remain and you go insane for want of cake. But we’re being reasonable, here. As we generally are on my blog.
**Yes. That is grammatically correct. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is happening now.