Tag: Advice

Writing Stories: Conflict

“English Bond” by Richard Croft is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What is conflict?

Well, for starters, it is both a noun and a verb. Both versions have a myriad of definitions. For today’s post we will be examining two definitions and how they relate to writing stories.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines conflict (n) as “an encounter with arms; a fight, battle” and conflict (v) as “To fight, contend, do battle.” Both definitions conjure up images of war and all the horrors therein. The first is the event — the fist fight in the cafeteria, the mass shooting at public schools, the bombing of Hiroshima. The second is the act of causing the event — the throwing of the first punch, the pull of a trigger, the press of a button.

At its core, both definitions are describing two or more opposing forces colliding together. One force alone does not make a conflict.

Rule#1: it cannot happen in a vacuum.

Imagine a rock being thrown in an infinite vacuum. There is nothing stopping it; there is nothing preventing it from continuing on forever. It might as well not exist for it does not effect the universe around it nor does the universe at on this rock.

Now, what if we add a wall in front of this rock? What happens?

Depending on many factors, that did not matter before because there was nothing in the rock’s way, multiple things can happen. The rock can crumble, the rock can bounce, the rock can sprout legs and dance vertically on the walls surface… the options are endless.

All because the wall is now in the rock’s way.

Is the introduction of any obstacle all there is needed for conflict then?

No.

But it does help, so let’s add this to our list of rules.

Rule #2: obstacles are necessary for conflict.

An obstacle is what stops or hinders the forward motion of the main character and/or plot. It is the dragon preventing the prince from saving the princess, the wicked witch poisoning the apple, the teacher who won’t let you pass Chemistry because you smell of elderberries.

It is the wall.

Yet, a wall does not make for a good story. Rock hits wall, the end is not a story. Why? Mostly because we humans are curious little space orcs and tend to ask questions like why. Or How? Or When? Or Where? Or What?

Which leads to the next rule.

Rule #3: Conflicts happen in a setting and the setting is effected  by the conflict and the conflict is effected by the setting.

Setting is not just the place and time.

YES, I HEAR YOU ENGLISH TEACHERS SCREAMING, CALM DOWN AND DRINK DECAF TEA FOR ONCE!

Setting and context are one and the same and require a whole other blog post. For now, just know that the setting/context answers some if not all of the why, when, who, what, where, and how of the story.

Back to the rock.

What is it? A rock. What is it made out of? Stone. Can we be more specific? Let’s say it is made multiple elements found in the periodic table of elements. And it is hard. And rough. And because I want to, it has a name. The rock is named… Benjamin.

What??

This is my conflict in miniature I get to name it whatever I want.

Anyway, the rock that is named Benjamin is an average earth rock and it likes traveling through the air as if being thrown by a curious hairless space orc. But there are no space orcs (because that would complicate this analogy further) so Benjamin can propel itself just fine.

Yes, itself. Pronoun conflicts happen outside this one.

Now, Benjamin (Who) was happily zooming across an empty parking lot (Where) at noon (When). It was in a hurry and wanted to head home quickly because there was a yummy bento box waiting at home (Why). So, Benjamin was cutting through the parking lot to its house which was just across the street (How).

Now pause. Here we have a crucial element within the setting that highlights another key rule of conflict: desire/motivation.

Rule #4: All conflict is caused by desire/motivation. Something/someone wants X. The X is important.

What does Benjamin want? It wants to get home.

Now time to add an obstacle to its desires.

Mr. Wally McWallington, the Third, (the wall) is Benjamin’s obstacle. Wally is large and doesn’t care about nothing but themselves. A real jerk. I hate Wally. Benjamin hates Wally.

Especially because Wally is in Benjamin’s way.

Now what?

Is that it?

Wally never gets home because Wally is in the way?

That would be a boring sad story. Wally should do something about this obstacle.

Rule#5: The characters in conflict should always have AN ACTION.

Action moves the story forward, makes characters engaging, keeps readers reading and writers writing. Conflict needs action the way the desert needs the rain.

So what does Benjamin, the rock do?

It throws itself against Wally with all its mixed mineral heart!

Then what?

Benjamin ricochets off of Wally’s brick exterior and lands bottoms-up onto the pavement.

Then what?

He tries again.

Wally yawns as they watch Benjamin bounce off them again and again.

Wally is getting bored.

Rule 8: Action must continuously rise or boredom sets in.

Action rise due to the interaction of two opposing forces OR due to Dues Ex Machina (but that’s another topic).

Here Wally is doing nothing. So let’s help the action rise shall we?

Wally bends their great mass to look at Benjamin. “What do you want small fry?”

Benjamin sits up. “I WANT YOU OUT OF MY WAY! My bento is getting cold.” It says the last bit quietly to itself.

Wally laughs and kicks Benjamin away. “Fat chance, small fry. I like it here.”

Benjamin resumes throwing itself at Wally, as the wall laughs and laughs.

The wall occasionally kicks Benjamin away, further and further. It takes Benjamin longer to get back to the wall. Yet, it doesn’t give up and slowly notices a dent forming in the wall’s brick surface.

This can continue escalating indefinitely until a resolution is reach. . . if one ever happens.

Rule 7: Resolution? 

Resolutions are a separate topic. They are part of a whole story and their presence, or lack thereof, helps to define the story. As in life, there are times when conflict ends with a resolution and then there are times when it continues onward, passing onto the next generation like a really ugly lamp from ye olde days. Resolutions spell the end of a conflict in a story, generally.

Will Benjamin and Wally resolve their conflict?

We may never know.

Or you might, dear reader. I’ll leave it up to you.

Emerald City Comic Con

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Hello my lovelies!

This week in Dragon Den news, we have EMERALD CITY COMIC CON! This is my first year attending this convention and I have to say, Seattle knows how to put on a good show of art, literature, and fandom pride. Emerald City Comic Con “is the premier comic book and pop culture convention in the Northwest, taking place in beautiful downtown Seattle, Washington” (as stated on their site).

Now, why would a well-educated writer be interested in comic cons? Or pop culture? Or, for that matter, anything besides literary fiction and poetry?

For the same reason this blog is called Dragon’s Den: I love to gather, collect, review, create, consume, and live art in all forms. Literary art, High Fiction, Low Fiction, Mid-grade, Paperback trade novels, classically bound art books, and all forms of beauty. This world is rift with wonder and comic cons are filled brimming with gold I would like to showcase.

But they also have something unique, something I had trouble finding in Graduate School.

Fearless love of the craft of creation.

I attended several panels, since the convention began late Thursday afternoon. Many of them were panels of how to break into the industry, how to forge a path in art, the business of writing, etc. Many gave advice I have heard before. I will now summarize them here:

  1. MEET DEADLINES AND PROVE YOU CAN
  2. BE A GOOD PERSON/LIKABLE
  3. PRODUCE GOOD ART/FINISH YOUR WORK

Each panel kinda boiled down to those three bits. The last panel I attended, however, hammered home a lot for me, given these three seemingly simple rules. The speaker, Alex DeCampi, made it clear that creating your work, is work, and should be treated as such. Every artist must treat their work, their craft, like a 9-5 job. Be ruthless with your time because time is something everyone has a limited resource of. Money will come and go but time is always ticking away. Use it.

Also, you have to figure out how you plan to get to your work. Schedule it in. Have a 9-5 job? Work on your real work after 5 and don’t be afraid to be strict about it. Clock out and Clock in.

She also spoke about the feeling of needing permission to create work (and I have felt that need so hard). When she spoke about it, her words resonated with me:

VALIDATE YOURSELF.

You don’t need permission to create a tentacle kitty. DO IT. Trust me, someone will buy it. Hell, I bought one.

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Everyone say hello to Mr. Teal.

Create your own plan and give yourself permission to create the work you wish to create. Ultimately, that is what helps people get hired.

If you write a million words about a topic you hate, hoping to get a steady job in the field, you will get a job in the field… but you will hate it.

But… if you write for 10,000 hours, each month, about something you love, creating your worlds and poetry, you will get a job writing what you want, and you will love it…

Most of the time… The panelist also spoke about how the mindset changes once you are a professional. You get paid and there will be days when you just don’t want to inked that panel. But that deadline looms… The thing is, you got to. JUST DO IT. And get to the next panel.

With those thoughts, my lovelies, I will now end with a series of pictures. I hope these inspire you and get that fire in your belly ignited. Happy crafting!

 

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Bounty Hunter Sighted!

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Hagrid!

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Wirt and Greg from Under the Garden Wall

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Pony with Volunteer Gear!

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Groot and I

Writing and Other Jobs

What do the following professions have in common?
– A Janitor

– An Airline Reservations Attendant

– A Coffee Shop Employee

– A Potato Chip Inspector

– An Apothecaries’ Assistant

Answer: Each were jobs held by famous writers. Stephen King was a Janitor. Harper Lee was an Airline Reservations Attendant. Margaret Atwood was a Coffee Shop Employee. Octavia Butler was a Potato Chip Inspector. And, of course, Agatha Christie was An Apothecaries’ Assistant.

And I too have held many different jobs. I have worked for the Department of Labor, a tutoring center, and two educational non-profits.

When I was graduate student for San Francisco State University, I worked as a Teacher Assistant for a course on the Business of Creative Writing. The point of the course was the address the very valid concerns of young writers.

HOW WILL I MAKE A LIVING AS A WRITER?

The truth is there is no straightforward equation or path when you chose to write for a living. There will be people who claim there is. That they have done it one way and it worked. But that’s the thing. That was THEIR path.

THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF PATHS.

The three things that are consistent between all paths where art and literature are concern are as follows:
1) those who want to create, consume the things which they wish t create with relish
2) those who want to create, create daily, weekly, monthly, yearly
3) those who want to create, do not give up in the face of rock bottom – they keep going and they keep submitting

Those who WISH to create, give up. They put off creating. They consume things that don’t remind them of their dreams.

Writers are readers, they produce, they submit, and they do not give up.

What does that mean for practical advice? If you need to eat to write, then work somewhere for a while and write. I work as a Toddler Assistant Teacher for a nonprofit. I write and read everyday, either on my tumblr or twitter, or facebook, or wordpress. The work with my students has given me the privilege to read more children’s books. It is a dream of mine to write a children’s book. Will I get there? Maybe, maybe not? Will I give up…

NO.

As long as Dragon’s Den is up and the internet exists, I will write. This is my pledge. To you, my audience, and my fellow writers. Do not give up, do not surrender, and always keep writing.

For more on the different professions held by famous authors, click here.