Thursday, October 1, 2015

Conflict and Character

Apologies if my posts for this week and next seem distracted. I have good reason: my husband returned from deployment! Yay! We've missed him fiercely, especially our little monster. Happy to be under the same roof again.

We're Whole Again
As a military family, we are bombarded with obstacles. We signed up to serve our country (yes, I served for a while, but got out when we had our son) and face conflict only 1% of this nation will ever experience. Those conflicts are why I love fantasy genres. Anything to escape our reality is the best story, as long as it is, really, the best. I want a book that entertains and steers my mind from current events, the real world. I want conflict that I won't deal with if I was at sea or at home. I want an escape.

But I also want to relate to the characters. Conflict with unappealing characters means I close that book, either putting it down, or throwing it across the room. Maybe I won't even touch it at all...(cough) Twilight.

I mean no one is going to care about my husband working in the Navy if they don't understand why he puts up with the deployments all the time. There's conflict and then there's character. It's characters that drive the story. Conflict only propels them to reveal who they really are.

One reason I started writing is because I got sick of people eating up these awful books that have the weakest female characters in the world. They're not role models and they sicken me. They get published and I can see why: the conflict is believable in its genre, but the characters are lacking for some reason. Maybe it's just me, but I don't find boring personalities entertaining. They're...boring. Or annoying. This usually happens when their motivations are lackadaisy.

So how do you get out of that rut? I have some characters that I debate on allowing their existence. But I set them aside because I know they're not ready to tell me who they really are. Or I have characters that I never knew existed and there they are. My prot goes into another world and I'm just as surprised as she is to find out all the different people that live there. And it works for me. If I'm not intrigued, the reader isn't intrigued. It's a journey I love to go on despite my need-for-control quirks. Because if the story isn't driven by the characters you know and not know, then the story isn't believable. The conflict is there but the characters are who go through the conflicts. If you force them to go through the motions to solve situations, readers will know.

I can go into great detail on creating characters that aren't boring but that's very basic and I think new writers have more potential for nailing this part than they do balancing out conflict with character. So let's focus on the balance.

What is CONFLICT? Anything that hinders your character to satisfy her desires. Much different from a delay or incident, like a gun just out of reach when a victim falls while the attacker is closing in. The conflict is the attacker, not the delay, which is the gun inches from fingers.

Conflict will exist when your character has a goal. Make this goal clear to your reader.

For example: (Goal) Svetlana wants to be her own person. (Conflict) Her father, Ruslan, forces her to join the military.

The conflict will elevate when both try their hardest to achieve their goals. What makes this more dynamic is understanding the inner conflict that goes with the external. Sveta's external is her dad, and her internal would be her rebellious nature, or maybe her insecurity to stand up to him.

And goals will change because the person changes. And that's fine. What is important is that the reader must care about the character before the conflict matters. Most readers are character-driven. Humans are social creatures and naturally seek connections with others. If they don't care, they won't read. The conflict will bring the story to life by the character's motivation to reach their goals, and the reactions brought on by the conflict. Your story's core is emotion. Why is the character pushing through to the end? Why should we care?  Answer these for yourself. Ensure your story has characters we'll care about.

In the book Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict, Cheryl St.John writes this principle: "What the character is doing is not as important as why he is doing it. What's happening is not as important as how he reacts to what's happening."

I highly recommend this book to study her take on conflict, although I disagree with her when she says that being angry and bickering "is acceptable for antagonists because it characterizes them, but your protagonists must have more depth." She talks about conflict not being the foot-stomping moments. What I disagree with is prots being more in depth than antagonists. The ant and the prot should be equally-motivated, if not more.

Antagonists are the ones with the most depth, I have read. They are the characters I love because they have relatable reasons to do what they do. You see? It's character-driven, not conflict. When the story has two characters with believable motivation to achieve their goals no matter what conflict, it makes for a more compelling read. When you adamantly know every character's motivations, you will soar through your writing. And St.John also explains this. And I agree with her. But let that antagonist shine.

Find some writing exercises to help develop your conflict and understand your character's motivations. Choose your protagonist, and come up with one sentence to describe their goal. Is their goal based on the conflict or is it based on personal desires? Will their goal change throughout the story or remain the same?

Do the same for your antagonist. Are they the conflict to the protagonist or is it something else? Will their goal change?

How might each character's inner conflict fight their external conflict? Will they think one way and act another?

Have fun this weekend! I'll be spending quality time with my sailor and catching up on some personal development. Later kiddos.

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