Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Tag Archives: conflict

An Injection of Conflict

I currently live in Calgary, Alberta (that’s in Canada, for those who aren’t in the know), and we’re knee-deep in provincial elections right now. There are numerous political parties vying for the win, each with their own mandate as to how they wish to represent Albertans, and how they wish to shape our province and move forward.

There have been a lot of contentious debates surrounding key issues of abortion, gay marriage, equality, the rights of women, health care, arts and culture, and economic survival. Some of these issues hit pretty close to home for a number of people – and (particularly if you’re involved in social media websites and follow the news) the debate is getting pretty heated.

I try to stay abreast of current events, and I have been paying attention to what’s going on south of the border. It looks like the same key issues are surfacing in the States.

One thing that stands out is the level of conflict. There have been debates about personal beliefs vs. public beliefs, personal (religious) beliefs vs. political beliefs. It is challenging to watch or participate without your heart rate rising and getting all worked up. And that’s because it’s personal, no matter what side of the fence you fall on.

A group feels attacked and discriminated against – targeted, even – and they feel that their rights, welfare, and safety could very well be compromised if the election results show up as predicted. Other groups (even those in the majority) feel that any criticism of the political platform set forth, or the personal/public/religious beliefs of the politicians involved, is also an attack and a discrimination.

It’s a big ole hot mess, and it’s difficult to reconcile.

The flip side of it is that it is very interesting (and some would argue scary.) So many people are engaged, and a lot of apathetic citizens are being moved to stand up and voice an opinion, take a stance, and get out and vote. Many are encouraging their friends and colleagues to vote in an effort to ensure a future for a province in which they’d like to live and thrive. It will be interesting to see the outcome – both of the provincial elections here in Alberta, and the federal elections south of the border in the USA.

I bring this up because it is on my mind a lot these days, and it reminds me of when I used to administer/run my online text-based roleplaying game, The Towers of Jadri (which, if you’ll recall, is the world in which my stories are set.)

The biggest challenge I faced in trying to create a dynamic, interesting game for my players to play had to do with conflict. People gravitated towards happy, peaceful times. Others tried to play conflict, but often failed – falling into stereotypes, archetypes, and unmotivated cruelty.

We would try to find interesting plot lines, clear-cut aggressors, threats from dangerous places, invasions, explosions, and even war. We’d do our best to create realistic motivations for the key players involved, and we tried to ensure the conflict suited the current climate of world politics, the players’ roleplay, and organizational interests, all the while keeping the big picture story in mind.

The problem? The conflict was usually resolved immediately.

People had fun during the times of conflict, because there was something to do. They could band together, unite, create strategies, and take steps towards a common goal. It was active, exciting, and uniting.

But when the conflict was resolved, things would inevitably slow down and people would get bored – and we’d struggled to find new ways of injecting conflict back into the mix.

I give all this preamble as a way to focus in on your stories.

Examine the story from a point of view of the conflict. Does each scene have conflict? Is the conflict strong? Is it external, or internal? How do the characters respond? What steps do they take? Is it something that can (or should) be resolved quickly? How does it fit into the bigger picture?

Conflict makes things interesting. It is something to which we can relate and respond. If your story is low on conflict, it might be worth revisiting to see if there are ways to inject a little more conflict into the mix. Give something for people to fight for, or fight against. Something to fear, and something to root for. Your story will likely be stronger as a result.

Have you ever read books that were painfully low on conflict? Did they manage to keep your interest in another way? If so, how did they succeed? What are some examples of your favorite books where the conflict is impeccably handled? Please comment below, as I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Public vs. Private – Adding Layers To Your Scenes

Sometimes, when we’re writing a scene, we run into difficulties. Something just isn’t working. It might be a tone thing, or an atmosphere thing, but it’s often difficult to pin point.

As a professional actor, when I approach script analysis,  I always examine the nature of “public vs. private.” People – and characters – behave differently depending on circumstances and setting. What costs us nothing in a private setting suddenly costs us everything in a public setting. And by looking at whether a scene is public or private, there are so many conclusions we can draw – conclusions that increase the stakes and amp up the drama of any given scene.

If we look at our own lives, we also see that this is true. At home – with our family – we have a different persona than we do when we’re out in public, or when we’re at work, at church, or with our grandparents, etc.

From a voice, speech, and text point of view (which I teach to theatre students at a college), we call this “code shifting.” The type of language we use – the tone of voice, the pitch, cadence, and vocabulary – changes depending on the given circumstance and the people we’re choosing to engage. It’s an extremely important tool for cracking a scene, and I believe it can be a useful tool for writers, too.

As an example: When we’re talking with our loved ones, we behave differently than if we were, say, in an interview, or purchasing a car or home. We adopt different a persona depending on our circumstances and the nature of the relationship with the people we’re currently engaging – and with who might be watching.

And if we think about our comfort zones vs. moments of discomfort (i.e. traveling to a foreign country), we are definitely aware of the difference in our behavior.  As an aspect of the human condition, it’s an incredible opportunity for adding conflict to our scenes, and I encourage you to examine it in your own work.

I think it’s important for us, as writers, to consider the impact of the private vs. the public.

When we encounter a scene where things aren’t working, one of the tools we can draw upon is to consider the relationship dynamic between the characters. Is this a private moment, behind closed doors? Or are we in a public setting, where the status and relationship of the characters come into play? What’s at stake in the scene, and do the stakes change whether the scene happens privately or publically?

Perhaps we’ve planned some important moments of character development or revelation, yet they don’t seem as effective as we imagine them in our minds. So what if the scene becomes public, rather than private?

The way the characters choose to interact with one another shifts, and we receive an added level of conflict: the personal vs. public persona. What happens when it’s pushed to the limits? What happens if  the limitations of personal code break down, and a character unleashes everything they’re feeling – every little complaint, concern, and issue they might be having?

The impact definitely changes.

Consider how your scenes might change depending on whether it’s a two-hander scene in a private study, or a scene that happens at a party, or in a crowded marketplace.

What was once a somewhat decent outburst of emotion becomes a horrific train wreck, with very public ramification and personal implication possible.

And who doesn’t enjoy watching a train wreck?

Have you ever encountered a scene where you’ve examined the nature of private vs. public? How did it change your scene? Are there scenes in your work where this technique might serve you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.