Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Conflict = Tension = Emotion - Part II

In Part I, I defined conflicts and described the kinds. As I said, conflict is the backbone of fiction, and understanding this important element helps the author become a better writer. Hopefully I have added a few new thoughts to this blog.

Nature of Conflict
 1. Complexity
Conflict, especially internal conflict, is complex because it tests the character’s problem solving abilities and wiles. It forces the character to devise a plan and to test his or her strength, and it results in change. The conflict inherently opens emotional doors that add to the tension.

2. Choices
Conflicts offer choices. The character must make decisions which path he will travel to resolve the conflict. These choices are important to the integrity and worth value of the character. If he fails, his self-esteem crumbles or his life could end, depending on the type of genre. Making choices is when backstory comes into play. What were the beliefs of the character’s family? What was right and wrong? What old saying did they believe as true? A stitch in time saves nine. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Do to others as you would have them do to you. These beliefs influence the way in which a character thinks and acts, so make sure to use these childhood/family’s beliefs to enhance poor decision-making or unexpected choices. Surprise the reader. With choices, you have tension, and whether the right or wrong choice, an emotion is a result for both the character and the reader.

3. Conflicting Choices
In real life, people are often faced with decisions in which they must choice the “lesser of two evils.” Decisions are rarely easy and sometimes they are not perfect. When a character must make a choice that creates a new problem or clashes with a deep-seeded belief or value, a new conflict is created. When clashing into a value or belief, emotion is expelled.  Let’s say to save himself from being accused of a crime, he must incriminate his brother or a parent. Or Finding a lottery ticket, he wins a large payout, but he knows the person who lost the ticket. Does he keep the money? Split it? Or tell the person who lost it that he won the million dollar jackpot? Can you imagine the emotional reactions characters have dealing with this kind of conflict.

4. Conflict Grows and Deepens
When you peel back one layer of an onion, beneath you find another thicker layer. This is conflict. A novel depends upon layers of conflicts—the thin ones first and then they grow deeper and more dramatic. As a character believes he is resolving one issue, it is important to add another problem in his path that creates a new conflict. Always save the most dramatic and worst one for last. Don’t make your character’s life easy. Drama and emotion go hand in hand.

5. Immediate Conflicts
Every novel opens with a conflict. This is what hooks the reader and keeps her reading. Often the early conflicts come from a situation appearing on the first pages that causes the character to act or to make a decision. This can happen from a letter, a telephone call, a new character with a message, a strange situation, finding a clue to something important or a person needing to run away from a situation. Whatever it is don’t plop heavy backstory into the opening chapters. Hint at the past through introspection or dialogue. Cause the character to do something that leaves the reader with questions (he receives a letter and hides it). But don’t spew out information that pulls the reader from the action. Let the conflict tug the reader along.

6. Conflict Introduction
Introduce a new conflict building before ending the current one. Don’t give the character a moment without a conflict. Be real. Life is filled with small and large problems. Organize the difficulties in the character’s life and present them one at a time. This keeps the novel moving along, and allows emotion to build in a realistic way.


Martha Ramirez said...

Very helpful. Thank you, Gail!

Jillian said...

Another excellent post! Thanks, Gail. I think I'll name my notebook with all of your great postings, Gail. :)

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks, and Jillian, I'm so pleased you're hanging on to the blogs. I think it's like owning a book then. The topics are right at your finger tips.


Jillian said...

I completely agree with you, Gail. Have a wonderful weekend!

Tahlia said...

This is all true, but I don't like books that are just one big ball of tension. I prefer my characters to get a break occaisonally, it's too wearing otherwise, especially if every conflict is the same sort eg endless attacks on someone's life, endless emotional angst. It can be too much.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Tahlia - I'm with you on the tension issue. The post doesn't mean that tension has no relief. The balance of tension and conflict with calmer scenes is called pacing. A good writer knows how to balance the two. Even Shakespeare in his great writings added a comic scene in the middle of a tragedy to give the audience a break. The article is showing that the story is built on conflict and tension -- without it you don't have a story - but the author definitely needs to step back and not remove the tension but give the character time to reflect to weigh possibilities and to figure out how to solve the conflict. Those quieter moments or less dramatic are important to the overall plotting and pacing of a book.


Jarvis said...

Sure, there are different layers to conflict in a story, but I think the style and aesthetic of each particular conflict is important. Make it realistic but not over soap opera.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

I agree, Jarvis, I hope I didn't suggest that conflicts should be like soap operas. I don't watch those programs. . .never have. I believe in writing real and I b uillt my conflicts that way.

Thanks for pointing that out.

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