Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The A-to-Z Challenge: Today's Word: Conflict

CONFLICT! From the minute we begin writing, particularly if we are in some kind of writing course, conflict becomes a main, and sometimes excruciating, concept. No story of any length can be considered publishable if it doesn't have conflict. For a moment, let's talk about the history of conflict.

Needless to say, it arose as a major concept in literature from the ancient Greeks. (Didn't most everything?) It was first described by Aristotle as the agon, or the central contest in a tragedy. Itwas always between the hero and the villian ( our protagonist and antagonist), the outcome could never be known in advance, and the hero's battle always had to be ennobling. The struggle between adversary and hero had to be long and drawn out, and the hero's triumph could never be easily accomplished.

Today, things are different. We always have conflict, because without it, there would be no plot and the storyline would be dull and boring. However, there does not always have to be a hero and a villian in those exact terms. The reason for this is because in more contemporary writing, we've learned that conflict can exist in more forms than between two humans struggling for some kind of victory over one another.

We have internal conflict, where the protagonist is struggling with some kind of disagreement within him- or herself, and this generally occurs when he has certain values that are in opposition with one another. If I can be so bold as to use one of my novels for an example, my MC Ben, in my pre-Civil War novel, lived the first 10 years of his life in New York, where he learned slavery was a sin. Then he moves with his family to Kentucky, where his grandmother's plantation is run by slaves. He doesn't know what to believe: in one part of the country, slavery is a sin, in another part of the same country, slavery is an every day part of life. When he decides to help his slave friends escape, he is torn between his own value...hating slavery...and that of his parents who condone it. A deep internal conflict that he must deal with throughout the novel.

We have relational conflicts that occur usually between two individuals who have close personal contact with one another: a father who wants his son to follow in his footsteps in terms of career choices, but the son wishes to do something the father feels is frivolous, such as becoming an artist or an actor; the mother who wants to control her daughter's life, even though the daughter is now an adult, but who is considering marrying a man the mother believes is undesirable; bosses who invade their employees' privacy... this has become a very realistic problem today with bosses demanding to know their employees' passwords on social networks such as FaceBook. These are conflicts that arise from incompatibilities  the individuals involved relate to one another.

Then we have the usual external conflicts that arise from character against character, the protagonist vs the antagonist; the character against nature, which can be stories about characters surviving disasters, such as the recent cruise ship disaster, or from being lost in the wild, etc; the character against a machine such as a robot or computer or an android... I guess the recent Terminator movies and The Wrath of The Titans ( I think that's the correct name) movies would be examples of this; the character against society, and the greatest example I can think of here is To Kill a Mockingbird, where the struggle is to find justice in the face of society's overwhelming prejudice.

No matter what you write, the concept of conflict has to be a pivotal part of your plot. And sometimes, that means a conflict of our own to figure out the answers to the questions of who, what, where, when, and how our literary conflict is going to work out!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

1 comment:

  1. Conflict is such a necessary part of any story. Really it's the heart of the story. I sometimes feel bad for all the conflict I throw at my characters. ;)