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Conflicting Conflicts

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Sat Jul 04, 2009 11:17 pm
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Angels-Symphony says...

Conflicting Conflicts

Remember when you were young and used to role-play with your buddies as princesses, adventurers, and space men? Remember how one person would take the lead, give themselves godly powers so they were invincible and could fight off any bad guy, force, or weapon.

Or perhaps if that wasn't your childhood, you remember it from in Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends when Mac, Bloo, and Goo role-played as space fighters and whooped out whatever they could to beat the other.

What does this have to do with conflicts?

Well, it's an example of bad conflicts. The only problem the characters were dealing with was the imagination of the opposing side and the power of "dibs".

Think about the classic Cinderella.

If Cinderella was a beautiful, rich, kind princess with a handsome prince to match in the beginning, there would be no story, would there? If her wicked stepmother and nasty stepsisters didn't try to stop her and if the fairygodmother didn't balance out the sides, there wouldn't be a conflict.

And now, a piece of James M. Frey's book How to Write a Damn Good Novel

James M. Frey wrote:Story is struggle, and conflict is the "gunpowder" of storytelling. Conflict not only moves the plot, it brings characters to life. For, in the light of conflict, character is defined. That's because the way people respond to obstacles, resistance, barriers, and conflict sharply characterizes them, telling us who they are. This is largely because conflict forces them to make decisions and act. So, when you bring your characters into conflict, you breathe a soul into them.

And what does Mr. Frey mean by this?

Without a conflict, you have no story. The point of a story is for the MC to overcome the conflict and grow, or change in some way by the end. It's how the MC deals with the conflict, responds to the problems he or she faces that defines who they are and makes them more admirable.

I know that most of you boys and girls have dreamt about the day that (putnamehere) would whisk you off your feet and ask you out to (putplacehere), and that a lot of people these days write stories about how they, the pretties girl in the land/handsomest lad in the kingdom, became the perfect match for the handsomest lad in the kingdom/prettiest girl in the land.

It usually goes like this: Barbie was the most beautiful girl in the world with golden locks and clear blue eyes. The second she saw Ken, the handsomest guy ever, she knew it was destiny. What happened was they met at a royal ball, fell in love, kissed under the moonlight, and had their happily ever after."

Love, in reality, always has a conflict. Whether it be commitment problems, forbidden love, or life or death, love always has problems. Which is why if you're story is a bit like the example, you [s]should[/s] must consider rewriting.

And now, some examples~

The problem:
-The Disney Channel Movie "Read it and Weep". Some of you may have seen it, and some of you have no idea what I'm talking about. But in the movie, the main character, Jamie, wrote a story called "Is Saved the World". How it got published? I have no idea. The story was about a girl named "Is" who was a popular girl with magic powers going through high school. Whenever she had a problem, she'd just "ZAP" them to another dimension, people would applause, and then she'd move on.

See how that's no fun? How if your MC could just solve any problem with a flick of their finger and be done with it your story would be lame?

The Fix:
-"Avatar: the last airbender"

Some of you may have watched the Avatar series and joined Aang and his friends as they went on a quest to save the world. If you haven't, here's basically what happens:

Aang is the "Avatar", the person who is supposed to balance the piece between the Four Nations (Fire Nation, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, Air Temple). However, before he can be properly trained in the four elements, the Fire Nation destroy the air temple, making Aang the last airbender.

There's some other stuff with Aang getting frozen and 100 years later and stuff, but we'll skip that.

Although has the potential to be the most powerful person in their world and has the ability to firebend, waterbend, earthbend, and airbend, he's not a perfect character.

"Impossible! You just said that if you give your character powers that can stop anything that they're not realistic!"

Yes, yes I did. But Aang does have flaws. There are ways to flaw a character even if they can stop anyone or anything.

The keyword here is "potential". Aang only has the potential to be super-powerful.

In reality, he's just a 12 year-old kid who's really hyper and has no idea of what he's capable of. On top of that, he hasn't mastered his powers yet, which is why the Fire Nation tries to stop him at all costs before he can master his powers.

Another problem Aang has is that he's deathly afraid of his responsibilities, his powers, and letting people down, so he tries to put everything off so he can enjoy his twelve year-old life.

I know that's a bit confusing, but it basically means: if your character only has "potential" to become some sort of god-like character, it's okay. Just make sure to have someone try to stop your MC from mastering their skills and becoming this super-person.

If Is from "Is Saves the World" had limits on her powers, it would've been more interesting.

You could also make the MC fear their potential, and their responsibilites, and letting people down like Aang.

I. Types of Conflicts
- Man vs. Man : where one character faces off against another
- Man vs. Society: where the MC does something to upset the balance of society
- Man vs. Self: where the MC has to make a decision that will decide the outcome of the story
- Man vs. Nature: where the MC is fighting against a magical force

Note: you can always have more than one type of conflict.

II. Balancing Sides

An important thing about conflicts is balancing the sides. If it's obvious that one side is more powerful than the other and it's clear who will win from the start, then your story is not balanced.

Balance is key to keeping the readers on the edge of their seats, waiting for more. There's no point in filling in the blanks when the reader knows who will win and what will happen from the start.

I'll use Cinderella again as an example.

Book: Cinderella
Conflict: Man Vs. Man
Sides: Cinderella vs. Wicked Stepmother

Cinderella is the stepdaughter of the wicked stepmother, is really kind and would never do anything mean, and cleans the house for a living.

The Wicked Stepmother is a woman with power in society who manipulated Cinderella's father and now control's Cinderella's house, fortune, and life.

By just looking at these two characters, who would you really think would win.

Unless maids have super-powers in your world, it's obvious that the Wicked Stepmother would be the victor.

Beyond the protagonist and the antagonist, there are supporting characters, who well, support.

And here's how the supporting characters balance out things in Cinderella:

Cinderella and Fairygodmother=WickedStepMother

Mice & Bird friends=evil stepsisters and Lucifer(the cat)

Make sure that you always balance out the sides, and remember that balancing the sides out doesn't mean that putting the MC at odds is wrong.

Take note that Cinderella's side-balancer, the fairygodmother, doeesn't come until the climax.
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