Monday, March 4, 2013

Conflict, Confrontation, Anger

Our stories need these three elements, but for me, that is the most difficult thing to add to my novels. I dislike confrontation and will go to great lengths to avoid it. I get very angry with others, but rather than getting into an argument, I will have conversations with them in my head and tell them what I think and feel. If someone has done or is doing something that needs to be corrected, I fret and stew until it comes to the point I must say something. I’m not sure why that is so difficult.

In every editing situation I’ve had to rewrite scenes because of lack of conflict. Donald Maas has great information on conflict in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, as does Randy Ingermanson and a number of others. Ane Mulligan is presenting a course on GMC now on the ACFW loop, so it’s not like there’s no information on how to put it in our writing. Even after reading several craft books with chapters on conflict, I still have trouble.

Conflict in what a character wants to do and should do isn’t as difficult as writing the conflict between people. Other authors seem to have no problem with getting their characters into heated arguments with others. In all my stories I have conflicts within the characters, but when it comes to conflict between or among my characters, I tend to avoid those scenes and just talk about what happened in a later scene.

Right now I’m going through some major revisions in order to insert the “off scene” conflict into the plot. The conflict is there, but it needs to be seen by the reader as it happens and not in discussion or thoughts about what happened. One of these days I hope to get past that barrier the first time around and not have to rewrite as much. I love my editor, and she always gives me such good advice. Without her, my writing would be pretty bland by most standards of GMC. Thanks, Lori, for making us all better writers.

Any ideas you might want to share regarding conflict will be greatly appreciated by this Sanguine personality who would rather hide than confront. 


Greg Mitchell said...

I LOVE writing arguments between characters! I try to cram as much conflict in as possible! I'm not entirely sure what you're struggling with, but maybe my approach to fighting in fiction is derived from approach to "fighting" in real life. I am NOT one of these people who just likes to argue or to prove I am "right". I simply don't have the energy. But, when there's a real problem between me and someone else, I want to get it all out. I want to express how I feel about the situation and I want them to express how THEY feel--and then work on a mutual understanding from that point. I fight to resolve an issue, not to "win". So, how I approach conflict/argument/fighting is that, both sides have "truth". Even if one character is way off-base in their morality or rationale, they *believe* they are right. I think of arguments as presenting two versions of truth. Maybe they're both partially true, or maybe one is true and the other is a lie. Maybe they're both lies, yet, they discover the truth throughout the course of the argument. In other words, "fighting" to me is about deducing the truth of a situation. The truth of the characters.

Part of the reason I love writing arguments is because it's a chance for the characters to reveal who they REALLY are--what they're passionate about, what they're upset about, what they're willing to stand up for. It's a revealing process and, I think, is the fastest way to show a Reader who your characters are. When people are angry, their character (or lack thereof) rises to the surface and they are left exposed. That's how I approach it all: An opportunity to reveal truth, either about a situation or a character. Fun stuff!

Martha W. Rogers said...

Thanks for the comment, Greg. When I have to do it, as in rewrites, I can it done. Maybe it's because I had so much anger in my childhood. My mother was tiny and rather than spanking, she gave me verbal lashings that hurt more than spanking. I think I vowed then to never unleash anger on another person. I don't bottle it up. It gets out, but in doing something else.

It's really fun to know that God gave us so many personalities and that we can use them in our writing.

Brandi Boddie said...

I can create conflict between my character, but the hard part is sustaining it. Subconsciously, I don't want to fighting to go on, I guess :-) Thankfully, an editor advised me to always keep the conflict heightened and sustained throughout the novel. Don't let anyone breathe easier until you get to those last chapters.

Great post, Martha!

Darrel Nelson said...

You and I share the same editor. Lori is wonderful and has pointed out to me on several occasions just where "something is missing" in my characters' development. She asks me to present deeper emotions--anger, frustration, fear, etc,--and mix things up in my characters' lives by having them confront a problem with more conviction and then react more dramatically (but realistically). Like you, I avoid confrontation at all costs in my personal life, and that tends to spill over into my writing. Thank goodness for good editors who can take us to new levels in our writing.

Martha W. Rogers said...

You're so right, Darrell. BTW I now have a hard copy of Cassandra and look forward to reading it again.

Brandi, keeping that conflict heightened is the dinger. When we can do that, our story will sing. Thanks for stopping by.

Debby Mayne said...

I think a lot of us struggle with conflict in our stories, so you're definitely not alone, Martha. An editor once told me to see it more as a character "aha" moment than an argument. This is a time for the people in our stories to discover something major about someone else as well as themselves. Their deepest thoughts and feelings often come out during a heated moment when they're not holding back. That said, I still have to go back and increase the conflict in most of my stories.