SYWTBAW: (Goal, Motivation and) FRICKIN’ CONFLICT

Remember this post? Let's expand a wee bit.

From Merriam Webster's Dictionary online:

Main Entry: 1con·flict
Pronunciation: \?kän-?flikt\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin conflictus act of striking together, from confligere to strike together, from com- + fligere to strike — more at profligate
Date: 15th century
1 : fight, battle, war
2 a : competitive or opposing action of incompatibles : antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons) b : mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands
3 : the opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction

Even if you're just a middling or fledgling writer, you probably have a good idea of what conflict is (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. machine, etc.) from high school English classes.

But what does it have to do with your opus about alienation and dysfunction and a return to human principles?

(Psst: the answer is EVERYTHING.)

The main building blocks of story are GOAL, MOTIVATION and CONFLICT. Sadly, as I have not read the genius that is Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict, I cannot paraphrase what many authors of genre fiction agree is the best book out there on the subject. So I'm going to try to describe it to you with my own brain.

GOAL is the destination--the milk for your cereal at the end of your trip to the grocery store.

MOTIVATION is the why of you needing that milk--and there's no bones about it: you NEED that milk, dammit!

It's CONFLICT that makes the story interesting. After all, there wouldn't be much of a story if something didn't happen along the way to or from the store, right?

You know that old curse "May you live in interesting times"? Whoever came up with it was probably a writer.

"But I don't want my hero/heroine to get into trouble...I just want him/her to be happy," you may whine. Well, that's all fine and well, but no one is going to want to read a book where life is simple and easy--or, God forbid, BORING--for the protagonist. And you can bet that people will drop your book if you don't keep the conflict high up in your story.

But maybe you don't want people to read your book. Okay, well, that's fine too... But I might point to this (note for sensitive viewers: coarse language):

You can also read the text at IMDB's memorable quotes from Adaptation (2002):

So, yes, conflict is really, really, really, really important to the writer who wants to sell (and have people at least moderately enjoy their books). I don't want to say too much more in one post about it because it is SO important. Just keep it in mind as you're planning and writing and all that stuff.

3 thoughts on “SYWTBAW: (Goal, Motivation and) FRICKIN’ CONFLICT

  1. OldWorldNewMe

    I have to admit, i found that clip very funny! I think Cage's complacency is what made me laugh, and the truth of McKee's words (reminds me of George Carling). This clip has sealed the deal for me! I will definately purchase McKee's book, and look for Adaptation on NetFlix.

  2. David

    Clip was just coarse and noisy - man on stage thinks that yelling and swearing makes him a no-bullshit I-see-what's-going-on-and-I-tell-it-like-it-is kinda guy. He's wrong. He's a loud oversimplifying dick.


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