Saturday, June 23, 2007

Big conflicts, little conflicts

Linnea Sinclair had a great post on conflict today at Kristen Nelson's Pub Rants blog.

Two things I liked were the distinction between "complication" (something difficult/bad happens) and "conflict" (something bad happens that is personal to the character and won't go away until he does something about it). This is a common mistake that inexperienced fiction writers make. They know something bad is supposed to happen & then things get better. But they miss the personal angle.

The other part I like is the quote:

Well-written conflict is an undeniable I MUST slammed flat up against an equally formidable YOU CAN’T.


The other thing that needs to be pointed out to inexperienced fiction writers is the fact that your conflict (or conflicts) need to be woven into literally every single event, piece of dialogue and bit of exposition in your writing. I don't think that's an exaggeration. To put a finer grain on it, a story's main conflict/conflicts are broken up into a number of smaller conflicts that consistently advance the plot and develop the character. As Sinclair said, all these things are connected.

Sinclair said that this is primarily true of commercial/genre fiction. But I'm not entirely sure it is. The main distinction of literary fiction is that the conflict is usually more focused on the internal than it is in commercial fiction. Rather than "Who murdered Mrs. Garston," or "Can Mike Savage land his spaceship on the asteroid before his fuel runs out," you get "Why won't Lily speak to her father" or "Can Antoine become close to his wife again before he dies of cancer?" But the conflict still needs to be advanced all the time. There are people who would dispute this (early Joan Didion comes to mind), but not that many I suspect.

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