Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three Parts of Conflict

Last week we discussed time and your protagonist. I promised that today we would talk about conflict. Does each and every scene need it?

Yes, every scene should have conflict.
I break conflict into three parts:
  • Want
  • Tension
  • Outcome
Want—what does your protagonist want? Could be any number of things: a kiss, a baby, a new job, safety, a million dollars and etc. The list could go on and on.

Tension—has to do with how intensely your protagonist wants.

Outcome—should be a surprise: shocking, tragic, or pleasant.

Want, tension, and outcome create conflict.

If your protagonist is running for his/her life, he/she wants to live. Tension builds as want intensifies and skyrockets when you throw in a nasty villain hot on the trail. Plainly you can see want and tension. Outcome depends upon you, the author, and where you’re at in the book. Also what genre you’re writing. What about a novel that doesn’t have a lot of action? Where’s the conflict?

Okay, let’s take a look at a scene that seems devoid of conflict:

a woman sitting in a doctor’s office.

Not much going on to the naked eye. Let’s stir in some want:

Joy, and her husband, Les, have wanted a child for years.

Blend in tension:

A year to the day, Joy had started fertility treatments, and finally six months ago she and Les found out they were expecting a baby. Everything was fine until Joy realized she hadn’t felt the baby kick for several days. She called the doctor in a panic, hoping she would say nothing was wrong, but instead, she told Joy to come right in. After the examination, the doctor told Joy to wait in her office while she ran some tests. Needing something to do with her hands, Joy looks at a magazine, but sees nothing because her mind is too busy with worry. She checks her watch, but the time hasn’t changed. She should have called Les and told him what’s going on, but she doesn’t know. What would she tell him? The grim-faced doctor enters the room, sitting down at her desk. She looks squarely in Joy’s eyes and says…

Now depending upon where your story is—the beginning, middle or end—you will have different outcomes. If this is the beginning or middle you’ll want a good hook, something shocking or tragic. Depending upon the genre you’re writing for, you could even have the ending shocking, but if it’s a feel-good story you’ll want something pleasant.

I’ll let you finish this tale. What kind of outcome is Joy going to have? It’s up to you.

We’ve talked a lot about conflict and I’ve barely touched the surface, but I think you have the general idea. Conflict is want, tension, and outcome.

Next Wednesday we’re going to talk about the partner of conflict and that is control.

Just what you always wanted, control of the situation.  ;0)

6 comments:

  1. Enjoyed the post. Definitely makes one think.

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  2. Mason, I'm glad it makes one think. Conflict is sometimes misunderstood because people immediately think of fighting. The thing is we face conflict everyday in one way or another and it's not always a bad thing.

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  3. Conflict is so important in a story. Without it, it goes stale and lifeless.

    As for finishing this story, I think I'll have to bow it. It's a little too close to the surface for now.

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  4. Thanks for stopping by, L.T. You're right, conflict is central to a good story. :)

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  5. Excellent post, Kathi. Conflict is so important and often overlooked. Thanks.

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  6. Thanks, Carol. I'm glad you liked it!

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