Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Does Conflict Mean that Someone's Mean?

by Deren Hansen

I spoke recently with a writer who was concerned that she didn't have enough conflict and was afraid she couldn't fix it because she didn't like to write about mean people. I pointed out that because they've found ways to justify their actions, even the most hardened criminals don't believe themselves to be bad people.

Worrying, however, about whether people are good or bad, nice or mean, muddies the storytelling waters and actually introduces a subtle bit of moralizing.

How so?

Some of the best writing advice I ever heard was that story and conflict arise from two simple questions:
  1. What do each of your characters want?
  2. What are they each willing to do to get it?

If you have two characters who each want the same thing (a thing that only one of them can have) and who are both willing to do a great many things to get it, you have automatic conflict.

And the beauty is that neither of them has to be mean. In fact if they're both driven by worthy motives you'll have a much better conflict than a simple good vs. bad scenario.

After all, the parents grappling in the stores for the last trendy toy are only in the melee because they want to do something nice for their kids.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

1 comment:

Scott said...

To me, conflict just means two people want the same thing, often for different reasons. Often, the antagonist wants the same thing for reasons just as good (at least from his POV) as those of the protagonist. An interesting set up is a conflict between two idealists whose ideals clash, as is often the case in politics. From their own POV, each is the good guy and wants what's best, but because the ideals clash, supporters of one character will see the other character as evil. But flip it around and the same is true of the supporters of the other side. Your protagonist is the bad guy from the antagonist's view. When each thinks the other is bad and they both want the same thing for what is to them good reasons, you have massive conflict.