Showing posts with label Conflict. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conflict. Show all posts

Thursday, May 6, 2010

She said, She said...

Conflict is vital to fiction.  No one wants to read a story about happy people who have their lives figured out.  How boring.  And people expect authenticity in the stories they read.  Everyone has issues in life.  Everyone's struggling to work through their problems.  People read fiction both to escape their own lives for a moment and to get lost in a world of other people's problems.

Conflict comes in different forms: with self, with others, with the environment, with society, etc.  Today, because I'm chin deep in conflict with another person in my inner circle, I'll only talk about conflict with others.  Hey, blogging is cheaper than therapy.

When crafting conflict between two characters, keep in mind that there will be more going on besides the central problem facing the characters.  Hone in on the characters' fundamental differences.  Consider the things in their personalities that are inherently contradictory, the things neither see as a problem nor think should be changed.  These are the things that complicate problem-solving and contribute to convincing conflict.

For example, you have a central problem brewing between Character #1 and Character #2, perhaps one accused the other of betraying her confidence in some way.  You can deepen the fictional problem by mimicking reality.  In real life, people hold against each other certain aspects of their personalities or psyches, which become factors when trying to resolve the central problem. 

What if Character #1 is a person who was so affected by her chaotic upbringing, that she developed a strong work ethic, an appreciation for material objects she worked hard to obtain, and a low tolerance for disorganization in herself and others.  Enter the second character, who is spoiled by a life of ease and financial abundance, so that Character #2 is careless with her belongings since there will always be a maid to clean up behind her or a credit card to replace what's missing or broken.  These characters are dealing with a breech in confidence, but their fundamental differences, in real life, would come into play.  Write them into your fiction and you'll have a riveting, believable conflict.

One possible direction to take this example is to have Character #2 feel justified in breaking confidence, because Character #1 is, in her opinion, a judgmental witch.  You could write frustration into Character #1, who feels that Character #2 always plays the "judgement" card.  Character #1 would have been exasperated in the past with Character #2's habitual behavior: always late for get-togethers, forgets to wish Character #1 a happy birthday year after year, offers Character #1 the guest bedroom that's normally where the dog lives (shed fur everywhere, smelly and stained rug, etc.), etc.  Character #2 would, in turn, hate always feeling like she has to apologize for herself to "Miss Perfect" Character #1.

Real life is like this, isn't it?  When there's conflict between people, a fight never stays within the perimeters of the immediate problem.  The past gets dragged into it, personalities and "isms" come into play, and anger just stirs up old, smoldering coals until a new bonfire is blazing.

Conflict in fiction that feels the most authentic mimics real life.  It pays in the long run to spend time writing scenes or short stories about the characters' past interactions, their history together, and the reasons they act and react the way they do in the present.  Even if you don't use those stories verbatim in the novel, your knowledge of the characters' experiences, in life in general and in their history together, will create realistic conflicts and problem-solving.  Readers will readily buy into the characters' predicaments when they mirror both the compassion and the ugly realities of interpersonal relationships.

In preparation of a new WiP, do you write short fiction or vignettes about your characters' experiences outside the time frame of the novel?  Do you write from each character's first person POV, (despite the eventual POV choices of the novel), letting them talk about the other characters?  Is writing therapeutic for you, too?