Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Driving Force of Conflict

I must start by apologizing that I have not blogged before now. But you are not the only ones I let slide this week. I have not been very good at writing my novel, or my daily journal of my son. My blog is just one more thing in a long list that I slacked on...

But on a more positive note, I did attend my monthly writing group meeting this last week. So at least I did something for my writing. We had a speaker this month named Clint Johnson (clintjohnsonwrites.com). I'm sure we've all heard all the things that a successful novel "has to have" - the essentials to any story. Most of the time I have heard the primary necessity as being your characters, but Clint presented a workshop on conflict. It is through conflict, he said, that your character is forced to act outside his/her comfort zone, and therefore be understandable and relatable to your reader.

Interesting perspective. As he defined it more as the night progressed, I admit it made sense. It was still based around the characters like I've always heard, but you can only get to know those characters through forced reaction to conflict (or the decision not to react - it all depends on the character).

He gave us a couple of writing exercises that he prefaced with not choosing something we are currently working heavily on unless we want to re-write our entire novel. I've already re-written once on this novel; I don't want to do it again. So I picked an idea that wasn't even really an idea at this point. It was one short, tiny scene from a dream I had. But it was interesting, so I had it stored it away as a "maybe-someday-I'll-explore-this-more" idea.

The first exercise was to determine the character's single, overpowering need that drives the entire novel. Then figure out the very first thing that conflicts with that need and how the character would react to it. Finally, let your mind experiment with how the stakes could be raised by either deepening them (usually personal effects) or broadening them (usually public effects). Totally let lose and consider all possibilities.  This is only brainstorming anyway. After all of this starts to unfold, then you can start really writing a compelling story.

After going through these exercises, my sliver of an idea did start to formulate into some potential possibilities (though they are still so tremulous I'm not ready to share them yet).

But I also thought of another way this technique could be used. As I'm probably sure you've already figured out from reading this blog, I am verbose. I'll admit it - I'm wordy. So my novel keeps growing and growing and growing. I think the story is logical and makes sense and flows well, but admittedly I am biased because it is all coming out of my own brain. So once everything is down on paper, I am going to use this technique to revise my novel.

I've decided that, for myself, the best way to determine what is actually good, and what is useless to the story is to use an objective gauge. I can look at each of my scenes and determine if it adds to the conflict with my main character's primary needs (in this case to be accepted as she is, and to take care of her family), and if it deepens or broadens the stakes. If the scene doesn't do that, it's out of there.

Now I realize saying that and actually doing it are two completely different things. But this at least gives me some way to work with my text that works for me. Maybe it will work for you too. (Thanks, Clint!)