film about fatherhood highlights
the down side of novel writing
of the "projects" it refers to. You
give up a lot to write a book. Just don't give up
the best parts of your life. You can watch directly on YouTube
read these articles in sequence starting with Conflict
is the essence of Drama
is the essence of drama. Got none? Then you got none.
It’s the primary ingredient that weaves
together all the other elements of a novel.
a Seinfeld fan? What do you immediately remember about
the show? The characters of course. But what created
those characters? Actually, no, not the jokes, although
damn they were funny. The characters were instead put in
relief by non-stop silver bullets flying among them. It
wasn’t a show about nothing—it was about war.
believe me? Watch it (or any favorite) again with an
objective eyeball. All good shows…all good drama…is boiling
with conflict. Bubble, Bubble
confusion abounds as to exactly what it is. And no
wonder, for ‘conflict’ is a pretty watery word,
drawing into it an entire spectrum of dramatic elements
that inhabit both the width of a page and that of a
can't write a good book without it
terrible backlash of this confusion is that you really
need to intuitively understand it in all its guises. The
sweet dreams of many a would be writer have been
muddled and lost in their lack of an essential feel for
If you do grasp the full breadth of the watery word,
then you, your publisher and your reader will be
much happier with your book.
let’s break em’ down and bag em’. Good news is
it’s really not that hard. A few gritty examples so
you believe (most examples are from film or television—more
people know them and the principles illustrated are the same).
Angle Internal (Character Growth)
Internal conflict is the dilemma facing the character
inside and its impact on that character. Writers
typically choose internal conflicts that arouse a
universal emotion in people, whether it's inner need,
desire, belief, or turmoil.
us, a novel's characters have little holes in their
lives, bits of their tapestry somehow torn, experiences
that scarred them. This is their vulnerability, and
what they must confront as a direct result of what
happens to them in the novel. The resolution of this
confrontation, whether it's constructive, destructive,
successful or not, allows us to see how a character has
strong internal conflict can make a good story great.
Angle External (Role of the Antagonist)
conflict adds meaning and complexity to the
external conflict, but it's the external conflict that
forces a character to make internal choices and changes.
And the key to a
story’s tension is that a character has choices to
make. Which will it be? What will be the fallout?
For readers to care about a story the choices and the
resolution must have consequences for the main character
the broad perspective, a novel's need of an antagonist is
really the main character's need of something to force
him or her to make choices. Characters, like ourselves,
don't easily take difficult paths. No thank you. If we're
not forced to, we simply don't.
of the best ways to force a character into choices is to
develop an antagonist who will naturally jab into the
root of a character's internal conflict and who's goal
is opposite that of your hero (the hero, by the way,
doesn't need to explicitly know their goal). The
'antagonist' doesn't have to be an evil outlaw with a
sweaty hat, it can be a storm or society or a new job or
Shot (Bumps rising toward a Climax)
the way toward your hero's goal a series of conflicts or
obstacles occur that prevent him from reaching it. If
you have a bad guy these often result from run ins with
him or his minions. Each external mini-conflict or bump
must drive down to the root of a character's internal
conflict, slowly teaching the character a life lesson or
giving them the option to change.
Finding Nemo, for example, Marlin's external goal is
well...find his son, Nemo. Mini-bumps along the way include
leaving the safety of the coral reef in the first place and
later fighting sharks.
These events tear away at Marlin's weakness: his lack of courage.
An important component
of suspense at each mini-climax is choice. If there's no
doubt at all as to how a character will proceed at each
junction then the plot is without suspense and the
character without conflict.
A character's decision must proceed from
powerfully conflicting alternatives if we are to read with empathy instead of mere curiosity.
are fascinated by a character's actions largely in light
of the actions rejected and the stresses endured as a
Up of a Page (Spoken)
Try to instill emotion,
tension and conflict into every conversation and on every
page. Imagine what boring neighbors Jerry and Kramer
would be if whenever they met everything was wonderfully smooth
instead of eternally ripe with argument and banter. For
Seinfeld these little battles are either starting points
or nuances of the episode's big 'battle', and you'll
have a difficult time locating a full minute without
them. Perhaps more importantly they put Jerry, Kramer
and the rest in stark relief and in doing give us the
opportunity to (kind of) love them.
Take a closer look at
any good book, film or TV show and you'll be shocked at
just how much page to page or minute to minute conflict
Up of a Page (Subtext)
Whenever we deal with
people with whom we have conflict, whether love or hate,
how much of what we think and feel do we really say?
Usually not everything, for one reason or another. But
our feelings get through in subtle ways—off
handed remarks, body language, and through the very mood
of our actions.
motions are an underlying dialogue in themselves and
usually more compelling and effective to use in your
story than having a character blather out exactly what
they're thinking at every particular moment. Situations
like in life, are far more complicated. In Casablanca,
for example, Rick and Renault's entire
relationship is subtextual (rent the classic and see for
attracted to stories without conflict simply because we can't learn
anything from them. They are empty of the seeds that
might nurture our own growth, in whatever direction that
might be. Of course we love to read happy stuff in
books too, but only after the hero has traveled his or
her difficult path of personal growth and finally
reached the reward for their journey.