Monday, October 3, 2011

Object Lesson

One of the elements that is extremely important to writing fiction is conflict. For some reason, that was always a stumbling block for me. I never liked books in which the hero and heroine are always bickering, bickering, bickering--pointlessly. That's a clumsy use of the story building block and a lame substitute for true conflict.

I understood what it was, but I couldn't get the knack of how to make it work for me. In that way, it was like all the math classes I ever had to take in school. To this day, the idea of math makes me shudder. Just give me a calculator and I'll be okay. (I did actually see a friend use algebra once--for real--but she's got a science background so it doesn't count. And the weird thing is, she had her paper and pencil and foreign symbols, and I had the calculator and I got the answer first.) I did catch on, though, and while it's still not easy, I understand the use and importance of conflict. And it's more than just bickering.

Anyway, the other day I happened to have a camera handy for once and caught this picture. It made me remember the classic lesson I heard in a writing workshop many years ago. The simplest definition of conflict in writing is two dogs and one bone. There are a lot of nylon bones around the house for these two, but no matter which one Roxanne has (right), Jackson (left) wants it. It turns into a tug-of-war with lots of growling and shoving. It's not a fight, just a contest of supremacy. Jackson is definitely the alpha--he outweighs Roxanne by a good 40 pounds--but she doesn't just give in and slink away. She hangs in there to the end, and sometimes she even wins. When she doesn't, I give her something better--a cookie. Not exactly a strategic victory, but a reasonable substitute.