Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CONFLICT - Questions and Answers

Jackie wrote to me with a question about conflict:

I do have a question about conflict and mine is how NOT to complicate the conflict, I sometimes have too many layers in my onion! What's the best way to keep it simple?

Now I think I'd better make it clear that I use the simile of the onion precisely because I think a conflict needs lots of layers. A conflict that can simply be cleared up with one decent conversation is too simple to sustain through the book.

But by layers of that onion I don't mean adding lots of new details and new complications to the conflict - even worse, I don't mean adding lots of new conflicts. That's adding a whole lot more ingreients - peppers, tomatoes, cucumber etc etc instead of peeling away the layers of your actual central conflict.

I quoted Donna Alward wrting on conflict in her blog earlier this week. Also in that blog she says something very important - and relevant to what you're asking Jackie.

Donna says:

So can you have too much conflict? Surprisingly, yes. Because what you really need is a CORE conflict - and complications that branch off from that. The core conflict is your trunk, the complicatins are the branches. If you have too much conflict, you end up with too many trunks and not enough branches. Not a very pretty tree. . . Think of summarizing your book in a one paragraph pitch, or a back blurb. What do you state? WHO your hero and heroine are, and what the PROBLEM is. ONE problem. Core conflict.

. . . I want to share something of my farm roots. When you are pruning a tree (I was brought p on an apple farm) you trim so as to promote what's called a central leader. That's the branch that's going to go right up the centre of the tree and form the structure. If you don't prune for that central leader yu get completing branches. The tree does not grow as well as it is trying to support all the leaders, and you get mayhem in the structure of your tree. Nor will it produce to its potential. The same thing happens with your conflict. Too much conflict competes, creating NOISE as I like to put it. Your structure will be off. And yur story will not reach its true potential because without a central leader - a core conflict - you will lose the heart of your story.

Thank you Donna!

So Jackie - you need to look at your 'complications' and see if they spring from the original, the core conflict. Can you trace them back to that one event/problem/belief and see that they developed from that? If yes then they are part of the core conflict. If not they are complications that will muddy the water, confuse the reader - and worst of all diffuse the emotional tension because the reader doesn't feel connected to the central problem.

I hope that in my post about threading conflict through a book, changing and devloping as you go, that I showed you how you need complications of that one conflict not lots of different confusing ones.

The important quote is KEEP IT SIMPLE. DIG DEEP.

To test for the 'core' conflict of your story - try writing out your conflict . Just your conflict - asking what is this book really about?

For example - The Good Greek Wife? is about a couple who married for very different reasons and have never resolved that problem because fate intervened between them.

The Konstantos Marriage Demand is about two people who were torn apart by the feud between their families. Now they must learn to trust each other again.

Kept For Her Baby is about a couple who married without knowing each other so when a problem hit they couldn't share it.

Blake Snyder listed five questions to 'find the spine' of your story

1. Who is your hero
2. How does this story begin and how does it end. (This is quite simple for a romance - but it should also give you an answer to the core conflict - eg in The Good Greek Wife? to have the happy ending, Zarek and Penny must learn why each married the other initially and whether those reasons still hold true after what they have learned about each other.)
3. What's the problem (and how will it eventually get fixed?)
4. What's the tangible goal and the spiritual goal of your story (ie what do your characters 'want' - but what do they really 'need'?)
5. What is it about? (What's the theme of the story?)

So, basically Jackie I think that when you are tempted to add in another complication to your story you need to make sure that it is connected to your core conflict.

Ask yourself WHY am I putting this in here. If it's because you feel that not enough is happening then perhaps you haven't dug DEEP enough into your character's emotional reasons for behaving as they do. Perhaps you don't know them well enough.

Events are not reasons. They are things for your characters to react to. Too many events can cloud the issue and diffuse the tension

As I said earlier - it's all about the EMOTIONAL JOURNEY

Look again at the idea of writing a synopsis showing only the EMOTIONAL changes and turning points - Keep it simple. dig deep.

And always ask WHY?

(c) Kate Walker


CCMacKenzie said...

Hello Kate Walker,

Love this post, it has pulled me out, by the hair, of my cave and wip.

I think of an authentic emotional conflict as the following:

Opposites do attract, no doubt about it. Certainly within character archetypes, even though they are opposites, the thing that underpins them as people is a fundamental belief system.

Physical attraction will bridge the gap - in the shape of uncontrollable lust which eventually evolves into
love - but in the world of romance it needs more than that. I think they need to have exactly the same value system (goals), and belief system (motivation) even though they hide these from each other for many valid reasons (conflict).
This makes sense to me. However, reading this back, it may not make sense to anyone else!

BTW I'm signing with my pen name these days. I am Christine Carmichael Kate, and you rock.


Jackie Ashenden said...

Kate - many thanks for replying to my question! Apologies for not commenting, have been in Australia.
Anyway, this makes a terrific amount of sense so thank you so much. I think I add complications not because I have too many layers in my onion (like I thought initially) but because I skip some and reach the core of the onion too quickly. I have the whys, I just have my characters becoming too self aware, far too quickly and so by the middle of the book, I need to add more complications (unrelated to the core conflict) in order to keep the tension going.

But no longer! I shall keep referring to this post as a reminder to go through the layers, but not too quickly.


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