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Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 03, 2015 8:39 am

In my many years at FaithWriters, I’ve read and judged literally thousands of Writing Challenge entries. The ones that frustrate me the most, I think, are stories that are well-written in that there are no errors in grammar or punctuation or any of the other mechanics of writing—they have fully developed characters, a good balance between dialogue and narrative—in short, there’s nothing really wrong with the writing except…there’s a lack of conflict. Typical stories of this type might include sweet little stories featuring children who say or do sweet things…nostalgic reminiscences of life in the good old days…stories of two friends going on a fun adventure—you get the idea. It may be because of my own personality type—I’m just not sweet—but after I read stories like that, I always think, So?

Here’s an analogy about conflict that you’ll understand if you’re musically inclined. There are a lot of songs that can be played with just the three basic major chords—but things start to get interesting when you toss in a minor, or a seventh, or a sustained chord, and even more interesting when you throw in some dissonance. The ear longs to resolve the dissonance, and the musical composition is far more interesting.

You get the idea, right? Conflict makes your stories more compelling and more interesting. Like that dissonant note, conflict creates something that your reader longs to see resolved.

Some Christian writers are anxious about putting conflict in their stories, because they think that conflict is necessarily sin. When they think conflict, they imagine violence, anger, war, hatred—all of these are unpleasant and some people just don’t want to write about them. Let’s put that idea aside for a better definition of conflict:

Conflict is simply a problem or an obstacle for the main character to solve or overcome. So while Christians certainly can (and do) write about war, evil, sin, and violence, if this would make you uncomfortable, there are still many kinds of conflict that you can use.

Conflict is necessary in fiction for three reasons:

1. Conflict creates tension and suspense—and those draw the reader into the story. Suspense longs to be resolved, and the reader can’t help but read on, in order to see how resolution is going to come about.

2. When you have conflict, you often set up a situation in which your reader can more fully identify with one side or the other, and she’ll keep reading in order to find out if her side ‘wins.’ And that’s what we writers want, isn’t it—for the readers to keep reading?

3. Conflict is a reflection of the reality of life. When I read a story that’s just nicety-nicety, I think, what color is the sky on the planet where that person lives? I don’t think there’s anyone living who hasn’t experienced conflict, and that reality gives you a place where your reader can identify with your writing.

If you’re writing a very short story, like for the Writing Challenge, there’s really not room for multiple conflicts. Even if you’re basing this on a true, very complicated situation—you’ll probably need to simplify it for your readers. Our own stories can be very complicated, and the tendency is to try to give the readers the entire back story, and sometimes even the back stories of the back stories, because we want them to understand where we’re coming from, and to take our side. But in a very short story, stick to one conflict, and develop your characters.

Longer works of fiction, of course, will have multiple conflicts.

This is really just an introduction to conflict; subsequent lessons over the next several weeks are going to deal with specific types of conflict found in fiction. If you’re a poet or a writer of nonfiction, you get the next five weeks off.

HOMEWORK:

1. Make a comment or ask a question about anything in this lesson.

2. Name a book or story (or several) that would be familiar to all readers, and identify the conflict. For example:

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus has to defend an innocent black man in the deep south of the 1930s, where racism is a deeply-embedded part of the culture.

In Little Red Riding Hood, Red has to decide whether to take the wolf’s suggestion of going off the path.

In Castaway, the main character has to survive on his own on an uninhabited island.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has to find a way back to Kansas.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby beff » Sat Oct 03, 2015 12:31 pm

In the narrative poem, Casey at the Bat, The Mudville nine were down four to two. The reader longs for Casey to get a whack at the ball. With one inning left and two outs, the outlook wasn't brilliant, especially since Flynn would bat before Casey (and so would Jimmy Blake), and Flynn was a hoodoo and Jimmy Blake was a cake, there stood little chance for Casey to get up to bat.

This poem was a favorite from childhood. I think I still hold my breath when reading it. :)

And I'm still looking for Godzilla and the alien. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 03, 2015 1:28 pm

beff wrote:In the narrative poem, Casey at the Bat, The Mudville nine were down four to two. The reader longs for Casey to get a whack at the ball. With one inning left and two outs, the outlook wasn't brilliant, especially since Flynn would bat before Casey (and so would Jimmy Blake), and Flynn was a hoodoo and Jimmy Blake was a cake, there stood little chance for Casey to get up to bat.

This poem was a favorite from childhood. I think I still hold my breath when reading it. :)

And I'm still looking for Godzilla and the alien. :)


I got ahead of myself! They're in next week's lesson. You'll just have to wait.

Great example of conflict in narrative poetry, though. Thanks so much!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby CatLin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 3:45 pm

I'm looking forward to this series, Jan. I know I need more help in this area.

I chose "Gone With the Wind" off the top of my head, and have been thinking for 5 minutes about what the main conflict is. It might seem to be the Civil War, but I came to the conclusion (correct me if I'm wrong) that the conflict a stubborn, spoiled Southern belle against herself and her own pride, battling the fact that her world has changed and will never be "perfect" again. This is hard! What do you see as the main conflict? Am I close?

Also, this:
And I'm still looking for Godzilla and the alien. :)


:shock:
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 03, 2015 3:55 pm

CatLin wrote:I chose "Gone With the Wind" off the top of my head, and have been thinking for 5 minutes about what the main conflict is. It might seem to be the Civil War, but I came to the conclusion (correct me if I'm wrong) that the conflict a stubborn, spoiled Southern belle against herself and her own pride, battling the fact that her world has changed and will never be "perfect" again. This is hard! What do you see as the main conflict? Am I close?


Gone With the Wind is such a huge, epic novel that it encompasses all five of the conflicts that I'll be covering in this series, some of them in multiple iterations.

You're absolutely right that Scarlett vs. herself is a huge part of the novel. But there's also Scarlett vs. Rhett, and Scarlett vs. nature (when her family nearly starves), and Scarlett vs. Ashley (unrequited love) and some larger societal issues (the old South) and probably dozens more.

Stay tuned for Godzilla and aliens in next week's lesson.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby CatLin » Sat Oct 03, 2015 5:40 pm

glorybee wrote:
You're absolutely right that Scarlett vs. herself is a huge part of the novel. But there's also Scarlett vs. Rhett, and Scarlett vs. nature (when her family nearly starves), and Scarlett vs. Ashley (unrequited love) and some larger societal issues (the old South) and probably dozens more.



I thought of each of these conflicts when trying to discern an overall conflict. Most of them all could have been resolved if Scarlett hadn't "thought too highly of herself", as St. Paul put it. (But not all - the hunger for example. She put on her big girl panties and fought back.) Thanks for clearing that up. I'll see if I can come up with a less complicated book. :lol:
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby Shann » Sat Oct 03, 2015 7:32 pm

I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, so I'll use that as my example, although I realize not everyone here likes those books. There are multiple conflicts in that book too. First, Harry is trying to figure out who he is, why his parents had to die when he was a baby, and where does he fit in the muggle world and the Wizarding world. Of course there is the bigger conflicts of good versus evil.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 03, 2015 7:57 pm

Shann wrote:I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, so I'll use that as my example, although I realize not everyone here likes those books. There are multiple conflicts in that book too. First, Harry is trying to figure out who he is, why his parents had to die when he was a baby, and where does he fit in the muggle world and the Wizarding world. Of course there is the bigger conflicts of good versus evil.


Yes, and as we get further into the next five lessons, we'll have specific labels for all of those kinds of conflicts. Thanks!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby HISsparrow » Tue Oct 06, 2015 6:19 pm

I'm sorry I haven't gotten involved in anything much lately. I've been busy with my WIP.

Anyway, thank you for this lesson. You have a way of putting things out there that makes sense. Conflict is one of those things that I have struggled with even before I started writing. Sometimes it frustrates me when watching a TV show and it's obvious that a character is doing something stupid. I know it's necessary and if there was no conflict, no one would watch it. But sometimes the conflict feels too...contrived. It's there solely for the sake of conflict. Like when you're watching a TV show and the conflict is one thing. Then the next time you watch, the opposite is happening. Like two people who "loved" each other the week before and couldn't be without each other and now something's happened and...they don't.

I'm sure TV shows and writing novels are different, but they do have their similarities. I've noticed some of the same things in my own writing, but I'm not real sure how to fix it. Plotting seems to help some - making sure to develop my characters first so they can drive the plot. Not sure what else to do. Thank you for the lesson!

Ashley

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby lookinup » Tue Mar 29, 2016 6:28 pm

My favorite childhood story is "The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Anderson. The main conflict seems to be the "duckling's" search for its identity, to resolve the question as to why it is so different from its siblings. Correct?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CONFLICT

Postby glorybee » Tue Mar 29, 2016 8:00 pm

lookinup wrote:My favorite childhood story is "The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Anderson. The main conflict seems to be the "duckling's" search for its identity, to resolve the question as to why it is so different from its siblings. Correct?


Yes, absolutely.

A more obvious conflice would be Man vs. Society (or Duckling vs. Society), in that those mean ducks keep picking on our little friend. But the internal conflict is far more compelling--and internal conflict in grown-up books is often more compelling than external conflict.
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