Friday, February 13, 2009

conflict on every page

I think Maureen took that home from a workshop she did from Donald Maas, but it’s something that hasn’t strayed far from my mind since she told me of it.

But it sounds exhausting and hard and my first thoughts about conflict are fighting, disagreements, disputes, all words that indicate that your character is in crisis. Big drama moments, that can overwhem a reader if they happen on every page.

Then I started to watch the Wire and everything I need to know about conflict is all right there. And yes, Molly got both Maureen and I started on this show and yes, every TV critic ever has raved about this show, and yes, it’s as good as everybody says it is.

What the Wire does, is create several points of conflict for each character. If they introduce a character, that person will cause trouble for someone else. Even the so called good guys cause conflict for each other. The lieutenant of a group of cops is the perfect example of how they create conflict.
He’s a career oriented guy, someone who wants to proceed through the ranks. They give him a detective to watch over that resents hierarchy, but is great at his job. The commissioner is yelling at the Lieutenant to solve a big case quickly and expediently and the lieutenant’s people are telling him this case is too big and important to solve within a week and providing him evidence to support their claims. Evidence his superiors are not interested in.
Right in the middle of all of this, is this lieutenant, whose need to do the right thing is at war with his career plans.

And this guy is a supporting character in the show. The main characters have equally as much conflict, coming from all sides. Its brilliant plotting and it works on every level.

So thinking about it, I’ve decided to re-think certain characters that I usually put into my books. The big one right now is the ‘best friend’. The character in the book that is there as a sounding board to the hero or heroine, the one that listens, offers advice, but does little else. Not enough conflict in that character. Unless, they have a life of their own, something that either contrasts nicely with the heroine’s predicament, or causes problems for the heroine.

I’m going to rethink my characters goals, both big and small, and ensure every scene challenges at least one of those goals.

I’m aiming for conflict on every page, but if I get to conflict on every second one, then I’m better off than I am now.

I’m still exhausted thinking about it.


Amy Ruttan said...

I think you just tired me out Sinead. LOL.

Maureen McGowan said...

Conflict on every page is hard... but I do think it's what separates page turners from skimmers... (or give-up-in-the-middle-ers)

It took me a long time to figure out how to increase the page-level conflict (vs the big huge conflicts). I think it's about knowing, on every page, with every line of dialogue, with every movement, with every piece of internal thought, what each character wants and then putting something -- another character, themselves, nature, bad luck, whatever -- SOMETHING acting against the character to prevent them from getting what they want at that moment.

It can be as simple as one character misunderstanding what another is saying in two lines of dialogue... Clearing up the problem might turn two lines into three lines or four, but if the dialogue was mostly there for one character to get some info across, adding the misunderstanding adds conflict to character A having the goal of offering up this piece of information to character B.

That's a dumb example... but also a great one to show how easy it can be to add conflict on every page.

That Donald Maass workshop was AWESOME. So is The Wire.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Yeah another convert! And Sinead I'm going to say Daniels is one of my favorites throughout.

He has what I consider to be the best line of the SERIES in the last season. Wait until you meet the wife. Ooodles of conflict there.

As for conflict on every page I don't know that I could think about that as I was writing or I would go a little bonkers. I think the trick is - if you develop the characters as full blown fleshed out people (which I'm working to do more of) then conflict is a natural result when you put them all together - isn't it?


Sinead M said...

Stephanie, I am hooked to the exclusion of almost everything else.
It's killing me, and my writing, because I'm watching the Wire all the time.
But is is amazing and brilliantly written.

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