Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Drama means conflict

 If you have not been a follower of Kristen Lamb's Blog, I highly suggest you check it out when you get a chance. She recently did a couple of posts dealing with conflict, and the one that really resonated with me was "Little Darlings and why they Must Die"  In that post she makes the point that complications do not equal conflict. She wrote:
The problem is, complexity is not conflict. We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.
 Before I read Kristen's post, I had just finished reading a book that had been sent to me for possible review. While the writing in the book was engaging in parts and the central character was interesting, I was lost in layers of complications and kept sensing that something was missing. That something was real conflict.

Then I thought about the trouble I had in finishing Stalking Season, the second book in my mystery series, and realized that I had been struggling with this issue of conflict vs. complications. With a mystery, we want lots of suspects and false trails, but I know I have to be careful that I don't focus too much on that and forget about the basics of conflict:

                                       Character > goal > impediments

Another way to look at this is to think of drama as action and reaction. A character sets out to accomplish a goal, other characters or circumstances keep him from the goal, and he reacts. Keep in mind that reaction is emotional as well as physical. For example  in a romance the couple might have a fight and one of them storms out. That is the physical reaction. The emotional is what the character feels and thinks about the fight and what it means to the relationship.

In my case, I had been concentrating on the procdural side of the detectives finding the killer, I had missed some opportunities for real conflict. I knew something was missing, just like I knew something was missing in the book I read for review, but I  couldn't define the missing part until that aha moment when I read Kristen's blog.

Writers, how do you handle conflict in your stories?

5 comments:

Reb Alexander said...

What a wonderful post! Just what I needed and when I needed it. My main character in my children's book has a powerful conflict to deal with, but all around her other characters are milling about with lots of confusing details and no reason to be there. They need to have some sort of conflict as well! Back to the drawing board.

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for stopping by Reb. Glad you found this helpful, and I hope the rewrite goes well. Once I sorted this issue out in my book, it got much easier to finish, so I hope that works for you.

Carol Kilgore said...

I don't like conflict in real life, so when I write I always have to go back time and time again and add more. It doesn't come automatically to me. But once I figure out what it is and where it needs to go, it's fun to write. I think I'm weird.

Maryann Miller said...

Carol, I don't handle conflict in real life very well, either. Whenever I have had to let two characters fight, either verbally or physically, it is always hard for me to write the scene. I keep cutting it off before it really heats up, so like you, I have to go back again and again to let it happen.

Helen Ginger said...

Usually I have the most problem with secondary conflicts. I have to remember to resolve them or bring them to a head.