Thursday, February 21, 2013

Conflict vs. Complication

I frequently find myself passing on projects for the simple fact that the conflict in the story is either too weak or simply not there. I do think many writers believe what they put into a story is conflict, but in reality, it is simply nothing more than a minor complication in the story.

Before putting this post together, I did a little digging for different writer's opinions of what conflict really is. While the definitions varied slightly, all of the sites I looked at said pretty much the same things. First of all, conflict tends to return to the classic three examples we learn in literature classes: man vs. man; man vs. self; and man vs. nature. In other words, we're looking at larger global issues that exist throughout the entire story. Secondly, most of these writers were really stressing the same thing I want to say here. Conflict is the thing that drives the story and gives the reader a reason to want to get the characters through it. A weak conflict or a non-existent conflict brings the story to a screeching stop.

What we see, too often, are writers creating complications in the story instead of a conflict. In this case, a complication is something that, yes, does play a bit of havoc in the story, but is something that really can be over-come too easily. In this case, if you think of most of those plot lines in sit-coms, you are seeing a complication and not a conflict. For example, someone over-hears a conversation and thinks they heard something that didn't really happen. A character hears someone say there are some problems with money and immediately thinks the family is bankrupt when in reality they were talking about another family or maybe someone else's business.

The easiest way to think of a complication is that the solution can be fixed with a simple bit of communication between the two characters.

When we talk about conflict, we're talking about something much bigger and something that is really going to be life changing for one or more of the characters. If you think of Downton Abbey, a conflict here is the decline of the aristocracy and how this family is going to have to deal with the changes. As you can see, this is not something that can be fixed with two characters talking to one another. This is a big, life changing effect.

If you do feel that your story is not going where you want it to, you might want to take some time to examine what the conflict is. Is it strong enough? Is there a conflict? Are you thinking you have a conflict and it is really a complication?

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