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Thread: Dialogue and conflict

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Dialogue and conflict

    Do characters talking always have to be in conflict? I'm always reading in threads and in writing books that there needs to be conflict on every page, but aren't there times when characters are talking...or are doing something...and there is no conflict?

    Or...if there is no conflict in a given scene or situation, does that simply mean it needs to be cut?



  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    Do characters talking always have to be in conflict? I'm always reading in threads and in writing books that there needs to be conflict on every page, but aren't there times when characters are talking...or are doing something...and there is no conflict?

    Or...if there is no conflict in a given scene or situation, does that simply mean it needs to be cut?
    I think you might be misunderstanding what "conflict" means in this context. To me, conflict is a character wants something. It doesn't mean your characters have be arguing or disagreeing every time they open their mouths. They can be discussing what movie they want to watch (want to make a decision/watch movie). Or they can be plotting to overthrow the evil empire (want to overthrow evil empire).

    Your characters also don't have to explicit about their conflicts. "I want a cookie," can be written "I'm hungry. Is that a cookie?" But the conflict is still there.

  3. #3
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    How are you defining conflict? If you're talking someone beating up on someone, or screaming or something then---no.

    I define conflict as the reader's interest--which is what story questions are being asked and how fast I think the reader will want an answer to. That's what I'm looking for when I'm reading, so that's what I go for when I'm writing.

    And, yes, there needs to be conflict in every scene. Every page. If you can, every paragraph and sentence. But it all depends on how you define conflict.
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    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    As above. Not conflict like people necessarily in conflict with each other, but conflict in something happening - internal, external, in opposition to goals, etc.

    Even if it's not obvious in the scene that what's going on is conflict, everything should drive the plot forward.

    Like, for instance, from a fluffy thing - in a Shopaholic novel, the character can be happy and buy the perfect single thing that sends her on a wonderful date with her perfect bf and it seems great.

    However, that's conflict - a. (internal) she shouldn't be shopping to begin with, b. (foreshadowing) later in the book, it will cause a problem one way or another, c. that perfect bf/date will turn out to be the harbinger of a problem or something she shouldn't have been doing because x, y, or z, thus there will be an issue.

    It's all, even if it's lovely and happy at the moment, someplace either adding to the up side of the roller coaster or solving the problem on the down side - moving the plot, no matter which way. Does that make sense? I'm kind of mixing metaphors all over the place, heh.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    How are you defining conflict? If you're talking someone beating up on someone, or screaming or something then---no.
    I guess I'm defining it as tension. But if conflict is just about want then I guess the conflict is there.

    For example, My FMC doesn't know my MMC until she meets him. There's not a whole lot of conflict in them getting to know one another. Where do I find the tension or the conflict in something like that? It's not like the MMC has any reason not to be forthcoming.



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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    I guess I'm defining it as tension. But if conflict is just about want then I guess the conflict is there.

    For example, My FMC doesn't know my MMC until she meets him. There's not a whole lot of conflict in them getting to know one another. Where do I find the tension or the conflict in something like that? It's not like the MMC has any reason not to be forthcoming.
    Well, I assume that your characters want something from this meeting, whether it be a romance, or a friendship, or secrets from enemy spies, or they're just bored and need to pass time, there should be a reason they are meeting and getting to know each other. If there's no reason at all, then I wonder if the scene is necessary (or poorly written).

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    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little Ming View Post
    Well, I assume that your characters want something from this meeting, whether it be a romance, or a friendship, or secrets from enemy spies, or they're just bored and need to pass time, there should be a reason they are meeting and getting to know each other. If there's no reason at all, then I wonder if the scene is necessary (or poorly written).
    So, it's enough for them to just want something like friendship or romance? Even if it's mutual? Because I feel like if it's mutual, there's no conflict. Then again...I guess there are societal reasons in my book's world that won't let them have what they want anyway.

    So, maybe I'm worrying over nothing.



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    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    > Do characters talking always have to be in conflict?

    There's a difference between dialogue and conversation. Dialogue is conversation that pushes the story forward. Therefore it should have a purpose in the story. Ideally, it should also have tension. It can happen that your characters are in a shouting match; that's conflict.


    > I'm always reading in threads and in writing books that
    > there needs to be conflict on every page,

    There is a difference between tension and conflict. Conflict is the confrontation between characters, usually between protagonists and antagonists. Tension is the threat of conflict. Think of it as the difference between a gun fight, and going house to house in search of the bad guys.

    What you want is tension on every page - at least this is what the theory calls for if you believe in what Maass is promoting. That's because tension is what makes readers turn the page. They want to know what's going to happen in the next page, the next paragraph.


    > but aren't there times when characters are talking...
    > or are doing something...and there is no conflict?

    Again, a big difference between dialogue and conversation. Dialogue moves the story forward. Conversation is everyday babbling.


    > Or...if there is no conflict in a given scene or situation, does
    > that simply mean it needs to be cut?

    Boring parts can be edited for tension or conflict, or they can be cut out completely. Why would you have boring parts in a story anyway?

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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    So, it's enough for them to just want something like friendship or romance? Even if it's mutual? Because I feel like if it's mutual, there's no conflict. Then again...I guess there are societal reasons in my book's world that won't let them have what they want anyway.

    So, maybe I'm worrying over nothing.
    I don't know what your scene is, but I'll use the example of a first date or a blind date.

    Both characters want the same thing: a successful date. It's mutual. That doesn't mean there's no conflict. Maybe she can be thinking "Why did I say that? He must think I'm a dork." Or he might think "Why do I keep telling her how pretty she is, she must think I'm a superficial jerk." Or maybe their both just really nervous and babbling a lot because they want to make a good first impression. Or any number of things that can go wrong on a first/blind date. Because even if the characters have the same goal, there can be things getting in the way of that goal. That, to me, is conflict.

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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    So, it's enough for them to just want something like friendship or romance? Even if it's mutual? Because I feel like if it's mutual, there's no conflict. Then again...I guess there are societal reasons in my book's world that won't let them have what they want anyway.

    So, maybe I'm worrying over nothing.
    I think just watching couples who are mutally attracted to each other can create tension in the reader.
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    Just remember, rules aren't really rules, they are suggestions. If you need to have a dialogue in your book and the only reason the dialogue is there is because it's a way for you to inform the reader of something or move the plot along or even to just make a goofy joke to entertain the reader, that's okay. As long as it doesn't bore us, confuse us or ruin the flow of the book, you can get away with it. Just don't fill an entire book with useless dialogue though because I don't think anyone would want to pay you money for a book like that unless it was hilariously funny.

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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    Do characters talking always have to be in conflict? I'm always reading in threads and in writing books that there needs to be conflict on every page, but aren't there times when characters are talking...or are doing something...and there is no conflict?

    Or...if there is no conflict in a given scene or situation, does that simply mean it needs to be cut?
    The way I've seen this advice given is that there should be some form of tension on every page. Conflict is one way of creating tension, but it's not the only way. Thwarted desires can be a source of tension, as can there being something the reader is aware of but the pov character in the current scene isn't (omg, what's going to happen when he finds out so and so lied to him?). He may be perfectly relaxed and not in any sort of conflict at all, but the reader will feel tension because they know it can't last....

    Sexual situations are examples of scenes where there should be a lot of tension that may not be based on conflict per say.

    Also, remember, that conflict does not have to be external. A character can be in conflict within him or herself. For instance, wanting two mutually unattainable goals, or feelings of guilt about something, hiding something from him or herself.

    There is also some disagreement over whether it's good to have some ebb and flow of tension within a story. Some scenes possibly should be less tense than others. Or tension can ramp up and down within a scene.
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    If you've created characters people really like and a world they're really interested in, they'll keep flipping pages simply because they like being here with these people. No cheap tricks for constant high tension are necessary.

    Of course, that requires a lot more skill to keep interesting than constant danger and a ticking clock. But it's a hell of a lot more satisfying when done well.


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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    You don't have to have an immediate conflict in every scene. Look at some of your favorite books. Do they have people arguing in every scene. The idea is to keep some overarching conflict throughout the book. As long as you have something hanging over the characters' heads, you should be fine.

    I don't think a scene needs to be cut simply because there's no high-stakes conflict in that scene. Sometimes we need those scenes where we really get to know a character. I think a lot of the advice to put conflict on every page comes because inexperienced writers will spend a hundred pages introducing their characters without introducing any conflict.

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    No, you don't need conflict in every conversation. But I think every scene and conversation and action in your book should move the story forward.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwm4768 View Post
    I think a lot of the advice to put conflict on every page comes because inexperienced writers will spend a hundred pages introducing their characters without introducing any conflict.
    Oh, is this ever true.

    Conversations don't have to be tense, or have conflict, but they have to achieve a story goal. That might be showing a budding relationship, or illustrating character, or establishing a fact that will be used later. But if it's just people making small talk for the sake of showing that people make small talk, then the scene probably isn't pulling it's weight.

    And no, I don't care that it's 'realistic' to show people having meaningless conversations. I can listen to all the tedious small talk I want - or rather, don't want - on the train to work. People talking on their mobiles about all manner of boring shit that can go on for hours, and yet wouldn't provide enough meat for 3 lines of dialogue in a novel. Novels aren't strictly realistic in that sense. If someone is having a conversation in a novel, it had better have a purpose, and not just to illustrate that Mary is the sort of person who has a lot of meaningless conversations on the way to work.
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  17. #17
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    No. You just want tension.

    That can be as simple as "what's he/she going to say next?"

    As long as that's an interesting question.

    Conflict should drive the story and plot forward, but the only thing you always need is enough tension to get the reader to the next sentence.
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    As above.

    Whatever you're writing- be it dialogue or narrative- it must at the least be interesting, and preferably helping the story along. The reader needs a reason to keep reading -or he will stop doing so.

    If your characters are waffling on about nothing of any consequence or relevance to the unfolding story the reader will get bored. Whether what you are writing is of any consequence or relevance to the story is your decision.

    If you've never heard of creating Story/Chapter/Scene questions or goals you should check into them because they are a technique that should be in your tool box.
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    The short answer is no. Conversation can do nothing more than reveal character, and that's fine. Revealing character is important because it tells us how the characters will behave when real conflict does arise.

  20. #20
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    Do characters talking always have to be in conflict? I'm always reading in threads and in writing books that there needs to be conflict on every page, but aren't there times when characters are talking...or are doing something...and there is no conflict?

    Or...if there is no conflict in a given scene or situation, does that simply mean it needs to be cut?
    If you mean, do characters always have to be arguing, then no, of course not.

    But every scene should contain conflict of some sort. Not fights or disagreements, necessarily, but story conflict. The scene must advance the story, and the only way to do that is to move the characters farther along in their battle to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from reaching their goals.

  21. #21
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
    I guess I'm defining it as tension. But if conflict is just about want then I guess the conflict is there.

    For example, My FMC doesn't know my MMC until she meets him. There's not a whole lot of conflict in them getting to know one another. Where do I find the tension or the conflict in something like that? It's not like the MMC has any reason not to be forthcoming.
    Then give him one?

    Give them different agendas or expectations, even about something minor.

  22. #22
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cbenoi1 View Post
    There is a difference between tension and conflict. Conflict is the confrontation between characters, usually between protagonists and antagonists.
    That is a form that conflict can take, yes, but it's not how story conflict is defined.

    On a large scale, conflict is the irresistible force of the character's goal meeting the immovable wall of the obstacle that prevents her from reaching it.

    That struggle will be broken down into a series of conflicts throughout the course of the book.

    On a small scale, conflicts should play out in every scene.

    Tension is maintained by always keeping the reader in doubt that the character will attain her goals.

  23. #23
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    No. You just want tension.

    That can be as simple as "what's he/she going to say next?"

    As long as that's an interesting question.

    Conflict should drive the story and plot forward, but the only thing you always need is enough tension to get the reader to the next sentence.
    Yeah. ^^^

    (P.S. Note to self: gotta figure out how the multi-quote feature works...)

  24. #24
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    (P.S. Note to self: gotta figure out how the multi-quote feature works...)
    Click on the quotation mark button in the lower right hand corner of whatever posts you want to multi-quote. Click on the quote button for the final quote of the multi-quote.
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  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Awesome. I feel much better about these scenes now. None of it was small talk for no reason. These conversations between various characters are important to the plot and to understanding some of why they do the things they do. I was just a little concerned because these characters are not in direct conflict. There is absolutely some internal conflict going on. So yay! Now I know it won't be a problem in the book. Thanks!!!



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