Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 17: Cultivating Conflict

Doesn't it feel like we've already discussed conflict a few times?  Might that not be a hint that it is central to the entire story-telling process.  Yes.  Yes it might.

Continuing to follow Victoria Lynn Schmidt's "Write Your Novel in 30 Days" and Book in a Month calendars, our focus for today is on intensifying our characters' main problem.  In other words, making our characters' lives a bit more miserable by heaping additional conflicts onto their already harried lives.  But before we can begin brainstorming fun new ways to torture our creations we need to understand the three categories of problems every character will face, as identified by Les Edgerton in his book Hooked.  
  1. The Inciting Incident.  This is the problem that gets the story rolling.  We'll see a bit of "normal" life for the character and then the inciting incident occurs and causes a major disruption to that character's typical flow of activity.  In response the character seeks out a solution, which leads us to....
  2. The Initial Surface Problem.  This is the problem which will occupy most of the novel.  Although it may seem that this is the issue which must be resolved in order for the story to be complete, the novel's true ending is actually brought about via...  
  3. The Story-Worthy Problem.  This problem is less about outside circumstances and more about the changes a character must make within themselves to bring about a satisfying conclusion.
So when Victoria Lynn Schmidt asks us to intensify our characters' main problem, is she referring to the Initial Surface Problem or to the Story-Worthy Problem?

The answer to that is yes.

After all, is it really possible to pile conflicts onto the surface problems without having them influence the story-worthy problems?  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "A [person] is like a tea bag.  You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."

So even though we'll be combining conflict to the initial surface problem, remember that these added difficulties will also inevitably impact your characters' story-worthy problem; that character should be pretty dang strong by the end of the novel 'cause we're adding some boiling water via the following types of conflict:
  • Barriers - a character tries out a new approach for overcoming his problem, but it is ineffective.  Schmidt offers the example of a heroine trying to get into the church to stop a wedding but finding locked doors and maybe a couple of goons to keep her out.
  • Complications - a new character or situation enters the story and makes the current problem seem even worse.  A classic example of this, the misunderstanding, is shown in the fantasy-musical film Enchanted.  The hero, Robert, allowed the very innocent Giselle to sleep on his couch because she had no place to stay.  When his girlfriend comes over the next morning to find another woman in the house she walks out without giving him time to explain himself.  Now his current problem (having homeless girl sleeping on couch) has just been complicated. 
  • Situations - a new circumstance occurs which moves the story forward and adds tension.  Schmidt's example is of a man running for political office who suddenly finds out his sister has been arrested and that his campaign is now in jeopardy.
Now its time to brainstorm some possible conflicts for your Act II.  Pull out your previous outline and plot worksheets and see what kinds of problems you had planned.  Now use the Conflict Brainstorm worksheet (scroll down to page 269) and think up a few ideas of barriers, complications, and situations.  Don't be afraid to make things too hard on your character.  The worse things are the more the audience will root for them!

MY DAY 17:  The day itself wasn't terribly productive, but once the hubs and kids were in bed I stayed up and began my writing.  I wasn't feeling it at first so I skipped ahead a bit to a scene I was very excited to write - the characters' first kiss.  Yep, got so engrossed in that one that I stayed up WAY too late to finish it, but man was it fun.  Days like that make me remember why I do any of this in the first place.

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