Thursday, October 13, 2011

C'mon, I'll fight'cha!

Mmmm.... conflict; the element that keep readers reading. External or internal, psychological or physical, conflict - and the resolution - is central to any book.

No one wants to read about an ordinary day-in-the-life of the ordinary person on the street; an extraordinary day of an ordinary person, or an ordinary day in an extraordinary person, yes, otherwise, forget it.

Conflict makes the world go around, it gets people talking and thinking. No one but historians are interested in the pre-war talks between the Allies and Hitler. Hitler wanted a fight and he got one on a global scale. We're more interested in things like Dunkirk, the Battle of the Bulge, Midway, Pearl Harbour, D-Day, etc. If Hitler had said, "Yeah, okay. Just give me Sudetenland and we'll call it even." And been happy with it, the war wouldn't have happened (yes, right, someone else might have pull the trigger on the war, but that's not the point). If Napoleon had decided he had no interest in the rest of Europe, he'd be just another emperor of France. If Spain said to Queen Elizabeth, "You're a Protestant? Oh, okay, no big, carry on." What would she be remembered for?

Moving to fiction: Bilbo Baggins finds the Ring, hunts down Gollum and gives it back? Eve Dallas becomes a social worker rather than NYPD's top cop? Henry Jones, Jr, went into medicine rather than archaeology? Luke Skywalker stays on the farm, like his uncle wanted him to? Romeo and Juliet abide by their families wishes? Or my personal favourite, Honor Harrington contacts the peep ship Sirius and then lets them go to call off the invading force from Haven. The list goes on.

If done well, conflict creates the 'oh, shite' moment in the reader. Holly Lisle's Creating Conflict, or The Joys of Boiling Oil may interest you in creating conflict in your story.

But conflict isn't everything, you need strong characters. I can think of a number of books I've tried to read recently where the conflict was great, but the characters moaned, bitched and whined. I did not finish those books. I want strong characters put into awkward or dangerous positions. I want to feel for them, not roll my eyes and tell them to grow a spine. I want triumph over tragedy, justice for heinous crimes committed, vengeance taken after a struggle against the odds. In other words, I want a protagonist that's larger than life and an antagonist who isn't wholly good or bad but can legitimately justify their actions.

The Writers Digest article, How to Raise Your Characters Above the Status-Quo can help you flesh out a stronger character worth rooting for.

But for a quick character conflict, try thinking about your protagonist and what the worst thing you can do to them is. A doctor manipulated into killing a sick patient; a devout priest who is betrayed by his superiors; a politician blackmailed into betraying his principles (yeah, I know, they do it all the time, but...), a cop unable to protect and serve the innocent. There are plenty and the worse you screw up your noble character, the more interesting the conflict.

There are plenty of dilemmas you can toss your character into: ethical, moral, emotional, physical, pick one and run with it. If you keep the conflict in mind, you'll have a stronger story, one that can run the length of a book.

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