Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Well, turns out I was still feeling too under the weather to do a blog post yesterday, but I'm starting to feel a little back to normal today.  So today I'm going to ramble on a bit about a topic that has been rather present in my life lately and thus been on my mind: conflict.

Stories can't really exist without conflict.  Writing can, even very good writing, but in order to be a story a piece of writing has to involve conflict and resolution.  One of the biggest pieces of what makes a story interesting is how the characters deal with conflict.  In order to write a character convincingly you have to understand how that character sees and resolves conflict.

To start you have to know what your character perceives as conflict.  What one sees as a minor, easily-overcome setback could be to another a nearly insurmountable obstacle.  I think a lot of this perception is based on fear.  What does the character fear?  What would happen if that person was forced to confront the fear?  How would somebody who lacked that fear face the same situation?  What makes this character different?

Lately a friend of mine and I have made something of a game of “what would our characters do if...”  We come up with various scenarios (stranded on a desert island, stranded in each other's stories, stranded in high school) and then figure out how the characters would react, both to the environment and to each other.  It's been fun but also has helped to develop pieces of the characters that might not have come up otherwise.

Once you know what the conflicts are you have to figure out how the character will react to them.  One of my pastors was just talking about this on Sunday.  Some people (like me—I definitely fall into this category) prefer to avoid conflict whenever possible.  Others fight it—and some even thrive on it.  Some people acquiesce... anything at all to make the conflict go away.  Those who are wise will do what is in their power to defuse conflict.  (Sounds like the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”)  But our characters aren't always wise.

This reminds me of the analogy of the toothpaste tube.  Squeeze the tube and toothpaste will come out.  Sometimes people are like that too.  Put them under enough pressure and their true character will come out.  The job of a writer is to figure out what's in the character's tube.

So here's to all the conflicts that show our characters for who they are!

Have an awesome day, folks.

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