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Thread: Rethinking Conflict

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    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
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    Rethinking Conflict

    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    ...you need an emotionally compelling arc with obstacles for the character to overcome. ...overpowered characters [whose] gifts allow them to effortlessly surmount every obstacle ... make for dull reading.
    What she said is a short statement of a longer one I came across years ago when I joined AW. I've lost it but it goes something like the following.

    Stories are about STRUGGLE. They are simplified descriptions of life, and life is full of struggle. Just breathing is about lungs overcoming ribs and chest muscles to open our lungs to air, for instance.

    Struggles imply GOALS. We seek to breathe air, for instance.

    Goals can be POSITIVE. They may be PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, MENTAL, or SOCIAL. Examples include finding buried treasure, gaining self respect, discovering a cure for cancer, getting a date for the prom.

    Goals can be NEGATIVE. Examples include escaping a ravening horde of zombies, avoiding depression, struggling against ignorance, avoiding an unwanted marriage.

    A plot is a SUCCESSION of overcoming/avoiding obstacles which block progress toward the goal. It ends when the main character wins or loses when dealing with the last obstacle.

    Obstacles, like goals, may be physical, emotional, mental, or social. Or some combination. They may be PASSIVE, as a mountain range. Or ACTIVE, as a storm.

    Human or HUMANOID obstacles are very effective in getting and keeping the interest of readers. These antagonists may not be evil, merely with different goals to those of protagonists.
    These were one set of the rules/guidelines I always thought universal. Until a character haunted me until I told her story. And told it her way. And made lots of money (by my paltry standards). And made even more with her sequel. A character who "effortlessly surmounts every obstacle."

    That's when I began to look outside the box, to find other counter-examples to the rule INCLUDE IMPORTANT CONFLICTS in our stories.

    I've only just begun, but so far it seems that genre stories have the most conflict and the most major conflicts. Contemporary and literary stories more often have low or no conflict.

    One type of low/no conflict stories seems to be SLICE OF LIFE stories which let readers experience a different place or time or culture than their own - or revisit a lost or desired place/time/culture. Another is the ROAD TRIP, where the goal is only an excuse for the story. Another is the CHARACTER PORTRAIT, a deep dive into someone's past and nature.

    There are probably other types of low/no conflict stories which I've not yet discovered.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; 08-24-2019 at 05:51 PM.

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