Hi fellow North York writers
Without conflict a story is just shit.
I don’t care if it’s better researched than In Cold Blood, or how you paint settings like Van Gogh but with words. I don’t care if the characters are so 3D that when they spit your reader’s cheeks feel wet, because they aren’t 3D. You can’t have complex characters without conflict. A good character is flawed. That’s why all Mary Sue’s usually suck. A story without a conflict is like a fire without oxygen. It will die without a breathe before the first word is uttered. Here’s a commonly used story structure.
Notice how the line is as crooked as a radio wave from start to finish? That’s a good sign. A story without conflict is one straight line. Straight lines are one dimensional and are very useful in math textbooks.
Note: This is not a lesson in writing math textbooks.
You can tell if a story has conflict by asking, does everything go according to plan? Does your character set out on his story with the assumption everything will go smoothly according to plan and stops at the end with the plan intact? That’s bad. That’s like a private eye going out to ask questions to solve a murder and getting nothing but straight and honest answers about whodunit. By the end of the story, that plan should have been spat on by tobacco chewers, stomped on by steel-toed boots, shredded through IEDs, and what remains should be given a Texas funeral. If any bit of it survives, it would be the original destination of the plan, but even that is not a guarantee.
Shits got to happen between the beginning and the end.
One of my favourite movies that beats up a character’s assumptions is the Darjeeling Limited (watch it because it’s a Wes Anderson movie, and Wes Anderson movies are cool). In Darjeeling Limited three brothers are on a train trip across the Indian subcontinent to find their mother who abandoned them (see how the basic premise is in conflict). They even have a plan. One of the brothers Francis has decided that this is a spiritual journey for them, taking scheduled tour stops, along the way to meet their mother for closure. He even brought a laminating machine to laminate the plan into pocket-sized cards for his other brother’s convenience.
But being a Wes Anderson movie, the characters are too well-written to conform to this plan, and nothing goes right. The absolute nadir for this plan was a three way fisticuff involving pepper spray and a venomous snake, and the brothers are given a polite yet firm boot off the train, and are forced to trek to their mum’s by foot.
Now for those who want an exercise, I have what I refer to it as the “A man with a gun walked into the room” twist. Based on a cast off remark by an oft-quoted writer, it’s crazy enough to work.
– A story in dire need of more conflict
This is especially good for an inciting incident or when things are going to smoothly and need to be wrenched with the line “A man with a gun walked into the room” (Of course if the setting is not in a room, then adapt). Then continue a new story pathway and see where it goes.
Because when a man with a gun walks into the room that’s conflict. You don’t walk into a room with a gun unless you mean to do something with it.
Have problems walk into your characters life and slap them in the face if you feel they aren’t lively. Have one character for no reason walk up and stab another character if only to deviate from everything going according to plan. You don’t have to keep this inciting incident, but use it to see how your story can have conflict.
– By a fellow North York writer
p.s. This is my 5th wordplay and I find that my original intent of offering creative writing exercises to do has been nearly supplanted by offering writer’s advice. However as most of you don’t even do the exercises (much less read these things) I want a consensus of what direction you want the Wordplay to go to. Do you wish for writer’s advice/writing exercises or both?
p.p.s. if you notice anything wrong about the blog (i.e. grammer mistake, or how it could be improved) please let me know in the comment section below.