SYWTBAW: It’s all about CONFLICT

I recently read this post about the love/hate relationship between writers and their work, and thought, hell, is it ever the truth. Dysfunctional relationships like this one aren't uncommon--in fact, I'd question your ego if you didn't have a moment where absolutely loathed everything you've written, questioned the value of yourself as a human being, and then possibly abandoned the keyboard in search of some ice cream (or chocolate or whatever your comfort food of choice is.)

It happens: you're waist deep into a new story that you absolutely can't wait to tell, fingers flying across the keyboard in an effort to keep up with your ideas...

...And then, sometime around chapter five, everything starts to fall apart. Your characters get annoying, your dialogue grows stiff, the action lags.... The honeymoon's over and the reality of the work you have to do in order to make your masterpiece work looms huge before you.

You think, hell, this is way too much work. Better to end the relationship now and get out of it while the getting's good.

Remember Lesson #2? Well, here's the root of your problem with having lots of unfinished pieces: You have a commitment problem.

Never mind what your actual dysfunction is--writers can be serious nit-pickers and perfectionists when it comes to their work. What needs to be resolved is the actual thing that keeps your from continuing on your breakneck writing pace. It comes from one major issue--the key to your story, to writing, to a career


What is the central conflict of the story? When you're working on a scene, always think about what the purpose of it is in the grand scheme of things--is it resolving conflict? Is it creating a new one? Is it further complicating an existing conflict?

Let's say Bob needs to get milk from the grocery store. But when he gets there, he realizes he's out of cash. While he's at the bank machine, a woman comes careening around the corner, crashing into him. He drops his wallet, and she drops an identical one. She picks up the wrong wallet and takes off before Bob can say a thing.

There's no money in the other wallet. And now the woman has his wallet with all his ID and his debit card. And now Bob can't buy milk.

This scene is what's known as the Inciting Incident (see Story by Robert McKee). It's the event that throws the main character's life out of whack.

So where does the story go from here? Bob doesn't just go home and mope and do nothing--he still needs his milk, and now he needs his wallet back.

As a writer, you need to put your characters into situations that propel them to act, even--and especially--if it means taking them out of the comfort zone.

If you've been chugging along, describing for five chapters the everyday life of Bob as he goes to work, smokes joints with his buddies, eats the city's worst pizza, and generally acts like a doofus...that's all great as background to establish the Ordinary World (see The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler. See, I told you canon was important!). But when you get to the point where you have nothing else to say about Bob, it's likely because your conflict isn't strong enough. Or maybe you don't have one at all.

Think about what the central conflict of your story is and what your character's goals and motivations are. Once you have that, make it as hard as possible for him or her to reach that goal.

It's just like having a fight with your significant other: ignore the conflict and it'll leave you both hanging. You'll resolve nothing by turning a blind eye and plodding on through a half-lived life. Commit to your conflict and you'll have an easier time resolving it.

There'll be lots more about conflict later. Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.