Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Yesterday we built the body of a story, but it is still in a coma. (Might want to take a peek at it if you missed it.) We have sensory details and we gave the reader a sense of being there, but without conflict the story doesn't move. When a story is in a persistent vegetative state it's know as a vignette or an exercise in description.
There are four main types of conflict classified as either external or internal. External conflict is Man vs man, nature, or society and internal conflict is man vs self. I like to add a couple extra that could technically fit within the big four; man vs supernatural, fate, or technology.
So what does that mean for our poor story on life support? It means that we have a lot of options and different ways to go but we should look for one that has the biggest impact on me, er, our character. A good way to help us decide what conflict is best is to identify what the character wants and then explore ways of making that 'want' hard to get. Don't forget the stakes. If the conflict is too low key and the character is unaffected by the resolution of that conflict, then the stakes are not high enough. (Remember, our story is about me in a coffee shop and I want to write.)
Man vs Man
Mike the barista has decided to flirt and distract me from my goal of writing a blog post. Flattering. Depending on how pushy Mike is, this could be a good option.
Man vs Nature
The power goes out due to a thunderstorm. Unsettling, but our character has a battery powered laptop. She might leave early to pick up her daughter, but unless there is some catastrophic storm this isn't something to keep her from her goal. This option could work if your story has no word limit and you have room to build in the catastrophic storm.
Man vs Society
Sitting in a Starbucks with a laptop is widely accepted and I daresay, expected. No viable conflict here.
Man vs Self
Our character struggles over the content of her blog post. Perhaps the reason her knee hurts is because she is in the first stages of cancer (I'm not. This is for storytelling purposes only). Perhaps she hasn't told her family but needs to vent to someone so she starts a blog about her journey. This has the added benefit of setting up further conflict down the road with her family if one of them finds her blog.
Man vs those other three.
We could have aliens or a mythical beast appear (I know the cute kitty brought up zombies, but please, no more zombies!) or we could have a prophet come and tell her to never post anything or her computer could explode.
Whatever you chose, you must remember that your job is to be mean to your characters. I don't want Mike to creep up on me or to be away from my babies when an awful storm comes or to have cancer, but without something bad happening there is no movement in the story and nothing for our hero to overcome. The stronger you want your character to look, the more they should overcome. Maybe the Melissa in our story has cancer and is blogging about it during a storm when Mike pushes her for her phone number.
Of course, I don't want to be pushed to my breaking point, but our fictional characters should be. The resolution, seeing the character come out the other side, will be much more satisfying for your reader.
Take that still body of a story and shock it with enough conflict to give it more than the shuffling movement of a zombie. Pile on the conflict and bring your creation to life.
This story is a continuation of Doris Lessing's 'To Room Nineteen'. Lessing's powerful story is about a woman, Susan, who ...
I sashay through my living room with my new boots. Sexy, knee-high black boots that click on the wood floor and make me forget I'm a...
Day One: I have decided to scale the perilous heights of Mount Washmore. As with most undertakings, I will spend some time preparin...
What makes a story come to life? Not Pumpkin Spice Latte, but I'd argue that it helps in the process. I believe there are many...