In my writing class at AWCS a few weeks ago, we covered the topic of conflict*.
Conflict is present in life, and so it must be present in the stories we tell. It engages the reader (as it forces them to take sides), it creates tension, and it moves the story forward.
Conflict is about choices. Any time there is a conflict, it means there is a choice to be made – that is, conflicting options: Hide or confront? Argue or give in? Tell the truth or lie? Paper or plastic? Etc. Conflict brings characters to life, because it forces them to make a choice. Their choices reveal who they are.
Conflict tells us about the characters. What values do they hold? Are they a mediator? Do they avoid? Instigate?
Sarah Johnson, our instructor, told us that every character should have the potential to conflict with your protagonist. This creates tension for the reader, as they wait for things to clash.
Sarah gave us this exercise. Take two characters that don’t have conflict (e.g., people who get along) and put them in a scene with conflicting objectives.
This is what I wrote in class. It relates to the backstory of my protagonist, Demi, in my WIP. I hope you like it.
There’s sharp crack, a tremulous vibration, and finally a small satisfying splash. Merrick has landed her Forward 3 ½ Somersault dive.
“Okay, sweetheart, this is it. Remember everything we worked on. Focus on your form, be conscious of your position in the air at all times.”
I shake out my hands and feet, and roll my head side to side. I take a deep breath, the familiar scent of chlorine helps cleanse my nerves. I can do this.
The announcer calls my name. I’m up. Adrenaline trembles through me.
I turn to my dad to accept his customary hug of encouragement before each dive. Instead of his usual crooked toothed grin, his eyes are focused on the wall beyond the pool, his complexion pasty and ashen.
I grab his shoulder. “Dad.” He winces, starts to slump, but then suddenly straightens again. He arms himself with a quivering grin, a small sheen of moisture coats his upper lip.
“Go on, Demetria. It’s time to fly,” he says, his voice gruff.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” I keep my eyes focused on his, forcing him to look at me.
“Nothing’s wrong sweetheart, just a bit of gas is all. Now go on,” he nudges me toward the pool. I step back toward him, “Maybe we should call a medic.”
“Don’t be silly,” he gives a dismissive wave. My name booms over the loudspeaker a second time.
“Go, Demetria. Don’t use your old man as an excuse not to soar. You’ve worked too hard for this.” He grips my arm, it’s almost painful. “It’s your time. Soar.”
I take a half step closer to him and the look on his face tells me what I need to do. So I retreat – from him and my sense of unease. And I move forward. I jump, and I soar, and I fall.
Does Demetria have conflicting values here? What are they? Does this conflict tell you something about this character?
*It is important to note that throughout the class, our instructor made several references to Noah Lukeman’s “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways To Bring Fiction To Life”. Please refer to it if you are looking for more in depth information on introducing conflict to your work of fiction.