Wednesday, March 14, 2012
TRUE LIFE CONFLICT
The source of the conflict in a story is one element that defines the genre of a book. In other words, who or what will be creating the tension? Will the source of the tension be real, other-worldly, or tied to a particular period or place? The answers generally indicate a different genre of book.
Whatever the genre, I'm particularly drawn to story lines that draw upon the subtle tensions of moral choice, rather than danger, to create the conflict.
Consider Superman when he's caught in the agonizing moral dilemma of who to save. His one true love--Lois Lane--is at risk on one side of the planet, while a cable car filled with people dangles precariously from a rapidly unraveling cable somewhere else. He can only save one or the other. Who will he choose? That's tense.
Consider Abel Keogh's "The Third" where a man living in a militaristic future time period sees a forbidden third child being snatched from its mother and dangled by it's foot above the floor. The man doesn't know the woman, but he knows the abuser--a government bully with the power to ruin or end a person's life. Does he simply watch the child be injured, or worse? Or does he intervene, possibly placing his own children's lives in jeopardy? Intense.
In Free Men and Dreamers one conflict line ran thoughout the series. It's one I think we all can still relate to. Jed constantly struggled to find a balance between duty to family and duty to country. The other item pulling on us might be something else, or several something elses, but most of us can relate to the struggle to protect family, and the consequences of not being vigilant.
These types of dilemmas impact us deeply because we all can relate to the agony of having to choose between two "goods." Most of us have a fairly solid handle on the choices between good and evil, but set a good person in a situation where they have to choose between two goods, where some loss will occur no matter what they decide, and you are hitting most people where they live, in those moments when we wish we could divide ourselves and be everywhere, or do everything needful. Deciding which is the most needful thing--that's the burden.
For example, do you make that critical, job promotion-earning meeting, or do your attend the piano recital you swore to your increasingly distant child you would not miss again? Do you leave town for a week to attend the birth of a new grandchild in the west, or do you stay home to support your spouse as he receives an award? Do you tell your friend her husband is cheating on her, or do you hold your tongue because she's so happy and in love and you can't bear to crush her?
There are millions of scenarios of varying degrees of moral difficulty. These types of conflicts and the ensuing fallout are the ones that captivate me.
I'm a big fan of Nicholas Sparks' books. Generally speaking, you won't find guns, super bad guys, evil world domination plots, or otherworldly beings, at the root of his tension. Instead, he rips out your heart using elemental human drama--life and death, risk and self-protection, love and sacrifice. The list goes on, but you know what I mean. These are also the kinds of books I enjoy writing.
So, how do you like your tension?