Monday, March 23, 2009

"Conflict" - Love It Or Hate It?

Copyright © 2009, Steven E. Houchin

Every time I hear someone say, "I don't see any conflict in this scene", I want to strangle them. Ahhh, yes ... now there's conflict! To me, the "conflict" criticism always comes across as formulaic, like an item on a generic checklist: flawed protagonist, check; no clich├ęs, check; no adverbs, check; conflict, check.

I was at an author event recently where the subject of conflict came up, where it was said you must put "conflict on every page". Ugh - there it was again: the hated formula. But, as the discussion ensued - and some objections were raised - I realized that the "conflict" formula was really a misnomer. It doesn't mean that a fistfight or shouting match need break out on every page, which seems logical to qualify for conflict. Instead, it encompasses a lot of things we don't usually associate with conflict. I think the idea centers more around avoiding scenes that are nice, pleasant, pretty, and bland.

I jotted down ideas that might suffice to portray conflict in a scene:

Accident
Flirtation
Obstacle
Adversity
Foreboding
Oppression
Anger
Grief
Pursuit
Anxiety
Hate
Rage
Attack
Indecision
Revenge
Bewilderment
Injury
Reversal
Bumbling
Insecurity
Slapstick
Denial
Madness
Stress
Disappointment
Miscue
Teasing
Disbelief
Mistake
Tension
Exhaustion
Misunderstanding
Fear
Mystery

Looking through these ideas, I can see things that represent inner turmoil (denial), or an external force (attack). It can be shown through inner dialog, external dialog, body language, or action. Nods and smiles, sitting around, and mundane chitchat ("Hi, how are you?") are the enemy of conflict. Still, I don't like the term "conflict" for this concept. I think "tension" or "stress" works better for me.

Now, if I hear "conflict" one more time, I might just . . . just . . . . Well, you get the idea.