Today I want to talk about conflict, the most important element in story, the one that reels more readers in than any other writing tool.
Conflict is the reason we always hear stories about cops and black men, Kardashian gender confusion, and small parties of people who stomp on the American Flag in protest of restricted rights and status for illegals. It is also the reason we don’t hear nearly as much about the atrocities and genocides being committed by Boko Haram and ISIS as we should.
Before I had a proper understanding of conflict, I always just assumed it was good vs. evil. That’s somewhat correct, but it’s not going to get you anywhere as a writer.
At the heart of any good conflict is debate. The issues that make the news most frequently are the issues that divide Americans into two camps opposing in viewpoints but equal in passion. That’s why the cop stories are always on the news – Are these criminals being unjustly treated due to the color of their skin, or are these cops being wrongly persecuted for simply doing a difficult job?
That’s why the title of this post immediately stirs controversy – well how big is the dog? How old is the child? Did it attack your favorite kid or the one you tell friends was adopted?
The search and desire for an answer prompts you to read on. Our brains are wired to ‘figure things out’. That’s why we’re always preoccupied by the problems in our lives, and constantly infatuated with cunts and dickheads undeserving of our attention. That’s why we fall for the bullshit emotional games and can’t help but play them again.
It’s also why, in my opinion, ISIS doesn’t get as much negative media coverage as it deserves – they are animals who deserve to be slaughtered. There is nothing to debate, they are evil.
So how do we successfully implement conflict into story?
Let me start by stating the obvious – stay away from black and white. In other words, make your evil characters evil, but never have them say things like –
“Being good is for sissies. Come to my side. Money. Girls. Guns. Come on. You know you want to be bad. Light me up an addictive cigarette and pour me a drink of alcohol while I laugh smugly and smile like I’m better than you. Then lets go get skull tattoos… on our necks.”
And you also never want your protagonists to respond with anything like this:
“Stay away from me, Mr. Darkside. I don’t smoke and I never will. And I believe girls is a derogatory term for women. That’s why I call them ‘angels’.”
The focus here may seem as though it is on character, but it’s really not. Learn to thread conflict through every storytelling element, theme included. Remember, questions intrigue us. Questions are problems we need to solve, questions keep us reading. Always.
– Thomas M. Watt
Author of “A New Kingdom”
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