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When it comes to conflict, we writers err in one of two ways – we fail to inject our stories with conflict, or, we pile on so many problems the story becomes a confusing muddle.
I love Sharon’s Monday post. She reminds us the conflict isn’t always combat, and it isn’t even always big.
I read a fiction proposal recently that was so overstuffed with “insurmountable obstacles” I couldn’t figure out what the story was about. It seemed to be about everything.
In the excellent book The Anatomy of Story (recommended by one of our readers, thanks Becky!), John Truby tells the writer that you need a central conflict. This is what “your story is about at the most essential level.” He offers a breathtakingly simple method for getting a sense of the central conflict; “Ask yourself “Who fights whom over what?” and answer the question in one succinct line.”
While answering this question won’t give you the whole picture of conflict in your story, it is the back bone and once you have answered it, you can ensure that the rest of the conflict you create ties back to this one, central issue. To reference Syd Field’s advice from Sharon’s post, knowing your central conflict will help you to know which rocks to throw at your protagonist that will, eventually, get her out of that tree.
You want to ensure the rocks you throw relate to the central conflict and, occasionally hit their target. Throw stones at the protagonists main goal or motivation, chuck some at her values, too. While you’re at it, have your other characters throw some stones at each other, making sure that their conflict plays into or effects the main character’s conflict in some way.
What is the point of all this conflict? Why is fiction driven by it? Because pressure on your protagonist will force him to change – and that is the key to fiction; demonstrating the human condition in flux. We believe in our ability to change ourselves (and often, in Christian fiction, God’s influence on changing us for the better). For better or worse, the human condition is morphing and we writers are running to capture the process with our words.
Surely all art is the result of having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
What about you? Are you picky about the rocks you throw at your protagonist? What are your thoughts about conflict in fiction? We’d love to hear from you.