Tuesday, March 23, 2010


the fight
Originally uploaded by alicepopkorn
This week I am exploring conflict in the fiction novel. Conflict is the driving force behind any great drama. Conflict in the form of an internal struggle, an opposing force, even nature can take a serene scene and turn it into something surprising and compelling. Great stories have conflict in its many forms accost the main character and by extension, the reader.

One form of conflict is confrontation. Not the boring confrontation in a typical family, but the unusual, unexpected, the can’t-look-away type of family drama that keeps the reader hooked. Or maybe its confrontation in the form of a rivalry, for example, competing with your new boyfriend for a coveted job, or your father to win a case. Confrontation can be your main character against a destructive part of themselves, an addiction or a phobia. Perhaps they’re suffocated by the thought of enclosed spaces and they have to go spelunking to solve a crime, or save a loved one, and everything goes wrong.

This brings me to my next point. The conflict has to occur early on in the story. Some successful novelists say that they try to introduce conflict within the first two or three pages. It’s called in medias res, Latin for “into the middle of affairs”. It means dropping the reader in the thick of things. Star Wars is a great example of this literary device. We meet the young Luke Skywalker in the middle of a rebellion, during an epic battle his father helped ignite.

Its this device that made me love all those old detective novels I used to read. These books open on a courtroom and a contraversial verdict sends the crowd gathered into a rage. Two men, ready to shoot each other, each with their hand on a manila envelope. A meteor rockets into a field sending plumes of acrid smoke that downs anything living near it…these are great openers from some of my favorite stories. I got hooked immediately because the writer threw me into a conflict early on.

Conflict compels the characters to act, and the underlying motivation or drama gives them a reason to act outside of their comfort zone. And that, hooks the reader. It gives them the chance to hope for the heroine to face her demons, overcome the obstacle, and triumph. That’s what a good read is, an opportunity to take a journey with a compelling character. Whether it’s a race through the jungle, a frantic search for a missing child, or a desperate plea to stave off an execution, the reader has to care what happens and that only happens if you draw them into the story from the get-go.

Until next time…Go Write!