Conflict 1

by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

CONFLICT is the essence of story. That's why storytelling gets blocked when there's something amiss with the conflict-structure of the story -- you can't TELL a story that has no essence because it isn't a story and thus nothing happens next.

DEFN of CONFLICT -- an urgent and undeniable MUST prevented from materializing by an equally formidable CAN'T. (that's my own paraphrasing of a famous defn).

Notice how that applies to the Action/Adventure story AND to the Romance equally well.

Conflict is the essence of STORY -- without conflict, there is no story. Many beginners confuse a technical flaw in their conflict-structure with "Writer's Block" because they find they cannot write any more words. Here's a way out of that problem.

Many beginning writers use too many conflicts and end up with a tangle that is several stories (like a plate of spaghetti). Usually an attempt like that fails in the middle where the spaghetti tangle is just too thick to hack through and you don't know what happens next, so you can't write.

Others start off with the conflict already resolved, and discover they don't know what happens next on page two or chapter two.

If you failed at the BEGINNING of your piece -- back up your starting point in time to the place where the two elements that will conflict AND RESOLVE first come in contact (i.e. where the to-be-lovers first meet and it's hate at first sight).

If you failed in the middle -- strip away all the conflicts that do not lead DIRECTLY to the final scene, the resolution. Choose one conflict, initiate it at the beginning, let it hit utter despair at the middle, and resolve and win that conflict at the end.

If you failed RIGHT AT THE ENDING, the error is probably on page one. Novels, like symphonies, should be symmetric. The ending is dictated by the beginning. If the conflict WON'T resolve for the ending -- then either you resolved the conflict somewhere in the middle and just didn't stop writing -- (in which case the solution is to move the middle to the end and fold all the stuff that you wrote after the middle into the first half of the novel -- then it'll work ) -- or you didn't begin the story at the point in time where the conflict that must resolve on the last page first starts (in which case, you move the opening forward or back in time to the correct point where the story starts.)

The story starts where the two elements that will conflict first come in contact with each other (it can be symbolic, but that's a sophisticated technique I don't recommend to beginners).

The story ends when the conflict is resolved.

To frame a story to write:

Find someone who NEEDS to accomplish something. Figure out what's preventing them from accomplishing that something. The story begins when the person who needs to accomplish something first notices WHY they CAN'T DO IT. The body of the story is about what they do in response to that knowledge that something (for beginning writers it should always be SOMEONE not something abstract) is blocking them from their purpose. And the END is where they accomplish the purpose.

The story-structure where the purpose changes in the middle is also a very sophisticated structure not recommended until you've mastered the simple story-structure.

The story structure described above is usually summarized in writing books as: "A likeable hero struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal."

There is one other plot-structure noted in most writing textbooks -- "Johnny gets his fanny caught in a beartrap and has his adventures getting it out."

Both structures work for Romance, though the second is more effective in the comedic vein -- the Romantic Comedy.

ONE EXCEPTION -- the action/romance -- such as STAR WARS and its sequels. Hans & Princess Leah. Though I have to admit, it had its comedic moments! Hans definitely has his fanny caught in one whale of a beartrap. He is caught up in the affairs of wizards. Leah is the one with the purpose, so she's the hero and he's the heroine who enables the hero to succeed. That role reversal is "cognitive dissonance" which is an artist's most potent tool. And because it's a futuristic romance, you hardly notice what's really happening -- until you're laughing out loud.

Those two classic statements of what a plot is -- DEFINE conflict implicitly -- because story=conflict -- because story and conflict are the same thing. And it works both ways. Where there is CONFLICT there is also story. Where there's a story -- you betcha there's one hot conflict seething beneath the surface.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg