We read stories and we watch films and plays because we need to find out how the conflict will be resolved. Alfred Hitchcock said that drama depicts real life with the boring bits taken out. Lately, I have discovered that in my writing, I need to take conflict to a new level. It is very uncomfortable for me to do so. As I am in the process of turning my early life into fiction, I have discovered that I must put words into my character's dialogue that they would not have said in real life. Pushing harder and going deeper into the conflict goes against the grain with me and I have had to ask myself why.
Writing coaches will say, conflict, conflict, conflict. What family does not have a person in their midst who likes to stir things up? Why do they do it? It makes me anxious just thinking about it. Drama dictates that the conflict be designated as quickly as you can present it. If you set out to create it where would you start?
The path of least resistance for me is to look at the word itself. Conflict is both a noun and a verb. Not having thought of it as such before today, I found this interesting. To fight or contend, says the dictionary, to do battle. To be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition to. It comes from the Latin confictus, meaning, a striking together. Not being totally drawn to a slug fest, the trick it seems is to show the contrast and then dance in and out of it. What is the antonym? Accord. What setting smacks of such an atmosphere? A wedding. Where is the conflict inherent in the setting? War. When you think of it, if you go looking for conflict, it certainly is not hard to find. As humans, one could argue that we may be slightly, or maybe even totally, addicted to it. Books about peace, or pacifists do not seem to climb to the top of the best seller list.
What device can create conflict? Interference. It always makes me smile to think that interference is a penalty in hockey. I often wish it were in real life. Take a character set on a path in pursuit of a goal and have another character interfere with that pursuit and you have conflict.
“Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It shocks us out of sleeplike passivity and sets us at noting and contriving.”
Could conflict be part of our evolution? Perish the thought. Yet if we lived without it, if we were truly a Utopian society without the merest shred of conflict anywhere, what would our lives be like? Wouldn't we be defenseless? Perhaps conflict is a process of sharpening our wits, girding our loins, testing our battle readiness in order to be prepared for whatever may come our way. Whatever the reason, no good story can exist without it. Therefore, as Dylan Thomas said,
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."