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.


  1. Cute picture of your fury friends. I love the analogy to writing. Since Jackson is an alpha, what is Roxanne?

  2. Hey, Vonnie, I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you! Yes, Jackson is definitely an alpha. I think Roxanne is more of a delta or gamma. Okay by me. She's a lot more mellow, although both of them inherited a feature of the breed--they'll bark at anything and nothing.