Conflict: Wouldn’t you shoot a dog if it attacked your child?

conflict

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”

Conflict: Damien Vs. Ronnie McDee – Round 2

CONFLICT: DAMIEN VS. RONNIE MCDEE ROUND 2

Greetings everyone. Let’s pick back up where we left off yesterday. If you weren’t here, we talked about the importance the role of conflict has in maintaining the interest of your readers. If you’d didn’t read the previous lesson, you’d be wise to go back and take a look, that way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.

Yesterday we wrote three versions of the same scene. In the first, Damien casually left his office building and greeted his wife outside. In the second, we added a ticking clock, which in this instance was (literally enough) a time-bomb. In the third scene we added Ronnie McDee, a sinister clown who was meant to be Damien’s ultimate antagonist, but wound up making everyone feel dumber for ever considering any of my advice by behaving like a cartoon goofball (and I don’t know that there is any higher insult to a full grown man then to consider his comedic fodder goofy).

So we’ll add conflict to what we already have, and observe how the scene improves.

level 1 – an objective (get to his wife)

level 2 – a ticking clock (time bomb)

level 3 – a nemesis (Ronnie McDee)

Level 4 – Let’s get a real nemesis. Someone we’re actually afraid of. So where do we find an antagonist worth fearing? It’s not about we. It’s about Damien. What’s his greatest fear? What are his short comings in life? Ah, you see what I’m getting at?

Adding an internal conflict to this scene. From here on out, Damien is no longer the blank faced cubicle worker, he’s about to become a someone. Let’s cut the shit and get to the scene already.

* * *

Damien watched the circular lights flash as he descended floor after floor in the elevator shaft. He knew the bomb was going to go off in a matter of minutes. He knew his wife would die if he didn’t get to her in time. And he knew the only person he ever prayed to be struck dead was waiting for him at the bottom floor. There was a battle ahead, no doubt. But Damien was having trouble focusing on what lay ahead of him. He was to busy trying to suppress what was supposed to be behind.

The memory felt like it had been branded to his brain.

This wouldn’t be the first time Damien found himself face-to-face with Onaldo. And both encounters involved a woman of his dreams. Only the last time, Damien lost her.

He remembered her light hair, her dark eyes, and the way she kissed his cheek. Every day since her death, Damien felt the burden of his failure. His wife always told him he’d never moved on – and in fact, Damien never did. She was not the type of girl you forgot about.

The elevator reached the bottom floor and the shiny silver doors rolled open. Standing twenty feet away from him was Ronaldo, wearing his typical yellow jumpsuit and red suspenders.

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I interest you in a McBlurry today?” Ronaldo raised a frag grenade in his right hand. “Or perhaps a big and tasty?” He unzipped his orange pants, whipped out his white-and-red member, then began helicoptering it around in a circle by the swing of his hips.

“You’re a sick fuck,” said Damien.

He stepped out of the elevator and clenched both fist so tight his knuckles cracked. He did his best to hide his nervousness, but couldn’t hide his subtle gulp from Ronaldo. The clown caught everything.

“Ah! Now I remember. What was it I served you a few years back?”

“Don’t.”

“I think I know.”

“DON’T!”

“She got a happy meal, didn’t she?”

Damien shook his head as his breath fumed through his nostrils. He heard something beep – no doubt the timebomb, somewhere nearby but hidden.

He winced his eyes closed. The memory was resurfacing. The most painful moments of his life. Her name was Lela.

“What was her name again?”

“You say it I’ll cut out your fucking tongue.”

Ronaldo began tapping his chin with his finger. His eyes rolled up toward the cieling. His painted lips raised in the corners, smiling that sick smirk he always got before he killed someone.

“Ah yes, I remember. It was for your daughter, LELA!”

***

Sorry, but I’m going to have to leave you there, due to time constraints. I’ll try to pick back up here tomorrow, and go into detail about whatever I feel may be of benefit to you. For now, notice all the questions raised throughout the scene. They mostly have to deal with Damien’s fear of returning to his past. (Why is he afraid? What happened between him and Onaldo? Who was this girl? Also, where is the timebomb, and will it blow before Damien gets past the clown?)

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

 

Conflict: Lesson 1 – Damien vs. Ronnie

CONFLICT: LESSON 1 – DAMIEN VS. RONNIE

Conflict is the most important element of storytelling. Failure to incorporate it guarantees that your works will flop. It is a subject worth going over again and again. There are more than a few types of conflict, but the common link of all forms is that they create adversity. Conflict worsens the predicament your protagonist is in, and she must grow stronger if she is to overcome it. Let’s start with an easy scene with no conflict, and watch how the scene improves as we amp up the adversity.

* * *

Level 1

Damien left the office building at five o’clock, because that’s when he got off work. Once outside, he kissed his wife on the cheek, just as he had a thousand times before.

Level 2 – Let’s add a ticking clock.

Somebody had left a time-bomb on the bottom floor. Nobody knew where it was, but word spread like wildfire – 5 O’clock it was gonna blow. Damien hurried out of the building, where his wife was already waiting for him.

“Damien, what’s-”

“I love you babe,” said Damien. He gave her a fat kiss on the cheek, and was thankful to be alive.

Level 3  – add a human antagonist (the antagonist can be a force of any kind, it doesn’t always have to be a bad guy with a mustache)

The elevator doors split open, and Damien found himself face-to-face with his greatest fear – Ronny McDee.

“Good to see you again, Damien. I noticed your wife was waiting for you outside. It’s too bad, she seemed so sweet.”

He didn’t have time for this – the bomb was set to go off at five. That gave him about three minutes to get past this lunatic clown.

“Shouldn’t you be flipping patties somewhere,” Damien said back to him. It wasn’t until then that the words sunk in – Ronny McDee had seen his wife outside. Had he done something to her?

“Hahaha!” Began Ronnie. “I moved on from that long ago.”

“To killing innocent civilians?”

“No, fries mostly.”

“Cut the shit,” said Damien. “What happened to my wife? If you did something to her I swear I’ll-”

“Relax!” said Ronnie. “I would never harm your wife. Gentleman’s agreement.”

“Oh. Well… I appreciate that.”

“It’s nothing. Now we should really get going and work out our differences elsewhere. I’d hate to still be here when my bomb goes off.”

“Good point,” said Damien. He jogged out the office building alongside Ronny, then found his wife waiting for him there.

“Hey, how are you?”

“I’m good. The chicken’s in the oven already so we should really get going.”

“Oh, alright,” said Damien, before turning to Ronny. “How bout I come by your place tomorrow and we settle this?”

“Sure, that’d be fine. Just look for the palace with the golden arches.”

“Ok.”

* * *

I know that the last scene got a bit wacky, but that was partly because I wanted to illustrate a point. Do you notice how the moment Ronny and Damien began speaking on friendly terms it took dedication to keep on reading? When you diffuse conflict in the middle of a scene, you require your readers to continue on out of kindness, rather than desire. We all want to see conflict resolved – but once it is, the story, or an individual scene within the story, is over. That is what happens after the climax – the conflict is resolved. But up until then, you must maintain conflict at all times, and the best writers are able to effectively increase conflict heading into the climax, something known as ‘rising tension’.

Notice also how corny this scene is? You feel like you’ve seen/read it a hundred times, don’t you?

But you still felt compelled to keep reading it.

Don’t be so hard on authors who are commercially successful. If you want to be a best selling author, you’re going to have to accept the fact that constant arguments, time-bombs, evil villains, and dames in distress are all useful ingredients worth including in any story, no matter how much of a literary ‘genius’ you’ve already discovered yourself to be. Don’t ever become formulaic, that’s not what I’m saying – just pay more attention to best selling works, and figure out why they’re best sellers. Don’t fall in line with those who praise works of literature that will never appeal to a mass-market audience, unless you’ve decided that artistic expression is more important to you than big-time sales. Neither approach is wrong, but you should seriously think about the path you’d like to take, and write accordingly. Don’t complain about the failure of the masses to recognize true brilliance. It has more to do with them not caring, anyway – the masses flock to stories that entertain them, and that’s never going to change.

Let’s return to this scene later. If you have any suggestions to increase the conflict, feel free to include them in the comment section below. It’s always good practice to find new and exciting ways to amp up the tension in any given scene. If you want to steal this scene and make it your own, feel free to do so. I don’t care.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom