Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From Disaster to Dilemma to Decision—How to Gain Control?

Recap of last week:
Three parts of conflict—want, tension and outcome.
Want: what does your character want.
Tension: how badly does he/she want it.
Outcome: should be a surprise (disaster) but could be pleasant depending upon where you are in your story.

So you’ve had the drama with a scene full of conflict ending with a disaster. What do you do between scenes of conflict? There needs to be something there, some kind of  down time where your character can catch his/her breath and so can your reader. Always keep in mind that your reader has been through the grinder right along with your character, and they both need time to take stock of the situation. As your character thinks about what he/she should do next, so will your readers. They want to follow your character through the transition between conflicts. But there’s more going on here because transition is where you will control the path your character takes.

What will you do? Or, to put it another way, what will your character logically do? Always remember there is a process and it must be logical or you’ll lose your readers.

What follows disaster? Dilemma. Your character needs to regroup. To help with this, think about the five phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Will a character experience all five? It depends on your character and the disaster in his/her life. There very well could be denial and a good dose of anger. Bargaining may take the form of reasoning. I would caution against too much depression, but by all means if the situation calls for it show sadness. And then, at the end of all this . . . acceptance and a decision to act.

During this transition time always make sure the story is progressing down the path you need it to go. If you pave the path correctly the disaster, dilemma and decision will be logical and a path your reader is willing to follow right along with your character. How about an example of all this so you can see it in action?

We’ll use the example from a few weeks ago when we discussed “the push”. We had a man in his late thirties, who had just broken up with his girlfriend. His girlfriend leaving him is his disaster. Next he’ll go through some of the steps of grief, as he walks through his workdays in a haze. He experiences a good dose of dilemma for he is angry with his ex for leaving and sad that his dream of a family has vanished with her. On his lunch break he decides to go to the park. He sees kids on a swing, a boy with a dog and a woman with a stroller. Deciding to take a look at the baby, he stops the woman with the stroller.

NOW we’re leaving the transition and going into a scene. See if you recognize want, tension, and outcome (three parts of conflict). He gazes down on a beautiful sleeping infant. As he chats with the woman, he notices her beautiful dark, chocolate-colored eyes, her easygoing nature and her low, sexy voice. In their conversation, he learns she is the baby’s nanny. (Suddenly his “want” awakens.) The clock on the courthouse tower bongs. She immediately excuses herself saying she has an appointment and leaves. (Here comes tension and outcome in one big swoop.) (Another transition appears as he leaves the disaster.) He has no way of getting in touch with her (sadness), so he decides (decision to act) to go to the park every day at the same time in hopes of meeting her again.

Did you see the pattern of control, conflict, control? Can you have conflict, control, conflict? Sure. Once you understand this concept of conflict and control it will become second nature to you as you learn to think, live and breath through your characters as they travel through your story.

Next week let’s talk about the elements of a story.

May your writing muse be with you. ;0)

6 comments:

  1. I like the roller coaster ride of conflict. I just put my characters through a nasty situation last night, so it's time to let them regroup today :)

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  2. Jemi, it does feel like a roller coaster ride sometimes. I just finished revising a romantic suspence. I understand needing to regroup. :)

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  3. Good info. Sometimes it's easy to forget about the down time that's needed. Or to do the opposite and make everything down time.

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  4. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy. I'm glad you liked the info. :)

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  5. Great post! Whenever I feel bored with my story, I lob obstacles in my mc's way. :-) One of my stories has a "too nice" hero. He will need a makeover in my revision.

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  6. Jewel: Thanks for stopping by. Don't you love revisions? Not! But seriously, during revision I find a lot of things that need fixing. It's a good thing we love our books. I wish you every success. :)

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