Conflict is an intensifier in writing and in life. In this lesson we open the door to explore conflict as both danger and opportunity.
When my dad watches a movie or TV show and the conflict intensifies, he puts his arms up over his head. Conflict sparks a physical response. Conflict provides an emotional entry point into a story so the story is no longer over there, we are now immersed in it.
In life, conflict can be tough for everyone from children to adults. Working in schools as an administrator has given me a master class in understanding conflict. Over the years I’ve learned that in any complex situation if we can slow everything down (within us and around us), the conflict can change shape and tone.
Learning can feel like conflict sometimes because learning is change. We can feel discomfort and resistance and anger. There can be a gap between where we are and where we want to be. For example, if I am learning a new language I can feel my walls go up and my mind shut down in similar ways to when I feel like there is an injustice.
Stories help us to understand conflict. They can show us ways into tough situations and ways out of them. Writers entertain, educate, and engage us through a series of events that shift power, expectations, needs, and feelings among opposing forces.
My recent television binge has been the series ‘Billions.’ I was fascinated by how the series explores the shifting power dynamics between Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades. A billionaire from the streets versus an attorney from generations of privilege. A man of commerce vs. a man of civil service. The forces of good and evil are strong within them both. The story is the conflict and how it moves and changes shape. Neither man is entirely good or bad. It is compelling because of this tension. We wonder, who is the better man? Will the better man win? These overarching dramatic questions lead viewers through five seasons.
Watch the video to go deeper into the idea of conflict and how it relates to your writing process and projects.
Playing with Fire
- Review this list of entry points for exploring conflict.
- Choose one or two questions to explore in your journal.
In your recent fiction project, note the antagonizing forces, summarizing the conflict in one question or one sentence.
For a week, use each of these proverbs to explore conflict.
- If you have not fought with each other, you do not know each other.
- Out of the frying pan into the fire.
- Slowly, slowly the egg will walk.
- Two people facing each other cannot pull a rope.
Make a mind map exploring conflict, what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, tastes like. Brainstorm ways to intensify conflict. Create symbols to show the difference between conflict and violence.
Discuss with Your Writing Group
What is the relationship between conflict and plot? Look at a standard plot graph with inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouement—trying to see how conflict really works within this story structure. Discuss how structure supports and/or restricts the ways we explore conflict in our writing. Imagine conflict without structure.