Monday, September 15, 2008

Conflict: Part II: Conflicting goals and Loss Factor

Dwight Swain defines conflict as a goal, often two incompatible goals affected by an event that:
• hinders
• complicates
• blocks

While a character is attempting to accomplish a goal or address a need, he sometimes faces more than one goal or need. If the character wants to help the poor, as I mentioned in Conflict Part I, he also has to have the finances to accomplish this task. So goal one creates need two. These goals are compatible, but when we look more deeply into his scenario, we find two incompatible goals. One he wants to earn money so he can be secure and never be poor again, but he wants to please his wife who wants him to slow down and share his time with her as well. Can he reach both goals? In this case, the struggle is greater and seems to have no answer. As an author, you would need to find a way to please himself and his wife, or he will have to give up one of his goals.

Conflict has a loss factor. Someone will win and someone will lose. Or I could put it this way: one goal will be reached and one will not. These goals can be anything that is important to the character. Dwight Swain, again, points to three possibilities that conflict can involve? The wants or needs can be:
• possession of something
• relief from something
• revenge for something.

Take a look at your novel and decide what type of conflict your characters are facing. Possession is a common conflict. Man 1 wants to be president of the corporation and will do anything to get. Man 2 wants the love of a woman who has detested him for years. Man 3 wants to find the treasure before someone else. Man 4 wants to reestablish his reputation. Man 5 wants to win the court trial that will make a name for him.

Women 1 wants relief from her abusive husband. Woman 2 wants relief from poverty. Woman 3 wants relief from fear that her secret will be discovered. Woman 4 wants relief from her boss’s harassment. Women 5 wants relief from loneliness.

Man 1 wants revenge for his brother’s death. Woman 2 wants revenge for being raped. Woman 3 wants revenge for being stepped over in the corporate world. Man 4 wants revenge for a crime he did not commit. Woman 5 wants revenge for the loss of her child.

When we look at conflicts this way, we can easily see that conflicts test the characters. As an author you push then to their limits and when we do this we:
• demonstrate their personal strength and ability
• challenge their self-growth

Characters must grow and change as the conflicts deepen as they overcome obstacles and rise above the opponent.


Keli Gwyn said...


Thanks for the helpful post on conflict and goals. You do a nice job of making things clear

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Keli - I'm happy to hear you find the conflict section helpful. I'm at a conference again where I'm on staff but if I find time I'll contnue the conflict blog here -- otherwise Part III will come when I'm home.