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dlgrantsf

Story conflict - what works?

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dlgrantsf's question was a good topic in itself, so now it's in its own thread. -- Blue, as moderator

This leads to a serious question I have, for readers. Authors too, actually.

About conflict, in our stories. As in; how much is believable? And/or, does lack of conflict make you stop reading, and go click on another story?

I follow one print author (name withheld) who likes short, snappy chapters, and conflicts ? friends arguing, lovers falling out ? happening every other page or so. Full disclosure; even though I love his characters, I find that kind of approach artificial. Not altogether believable. (All due respect, I?m new to this site; I?m not referring to anyone posting here.)

In the stuff I?ve written, on Nifty, the ?conflict? tends to be more internal. Not so much the classic, boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, boy-gets-boy-back; more, ?this is how I learned about life, and myself.? Or, ?these are the fears I faced up to.? Or, ?this is how I got over myself.? Because to me ? that kind of story seems more realistic; and hence, more moving.

But maybe it?s just me. I love ?Huckleberry Finn?, which is mostly an idyllic and somewhat homoerotic float down a river, punctuated with a few intervals of violence and fear. And Charles Dickens . . . you get the idea.

But what do you think?

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About conflict, in our stories. As in; how much is believable? And/or, does lack of conflict make you stop reading, and go click on another story?

A story with no conflict isn't even a story* and a story with too much conflict is not believable. Call it conflict or drama or angst or whatever. It's the same thing. And it's not a simple question you ask.

A teen has way more conflict than most adults simply because that's how life is. I have more conflict in my life than a monk, to use a silly example. It depends on the circumstances. I generally go for less rather than more. Some authors go for a LOT.

* usually.

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In the stuff I?ve written, on Nifty, the ?conflict? tends to be more internal. Not so much the classic, boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, boy-gets-boy-back; more, ?this is how I learned about life, and myself.? Or, ?these are the fears I faced up to.? Or, ?this is how I got over myself.? Because to me ? that kind of story seems more realistic; and hence, more moving.

Now I want to check out your stuff to get a feel of what you're talking about. It sounds right up my alley, as a matter of fact. Could you give a pointer to your Nifty stories? Thanks.

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About conflict, in our stories. As in; how much is believable? And/or, does lack of conflict make you

I think the key is to make the conflict believable, and not just something that's pasted onto the story and characters. In other words, the conflict has to come out of the situation, not just pop in without warning, right from out of nowhere.

Part of my reason for writing Jagged Angel was to experiment with conflict and to see if it were possible to continue to accellerate the conflict so that, by the end, it was almost too intense. One of the lessons I learned there was to balance the conflict with some "peaks and valleys" to let the readers pause and catch their breath every so often, like a slow moment in a roller-caster ride.

Note that conflict doesn't have to be violent, nor does it have to involve a screaming argument. Conflict can also be internal, like a guy who has to decide whether to go one way or the other at a fork in the road. Some of the best books on writing that I've read advise that great works of fiction usually show the hero in a situation where he has to make a moral decision, and that in itself can very much be a conflict.

Lack of conflict is one of my biggest criticism of a lot of amateur and online fiction. To me, this is part of the fuel that keeps the story moving forward. Without it, the novel can quickly turn into just a series of little disconnected episodes, where there's no real sense of direction. I feel it's important to give the reader a reason to turn the page and move on to the next chapter: keep them wanting more.

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Hmmmmmm . . . .

I've got some reading to do on this site, to catch up.

I think, to me, believability of conflict is pretty essential; something arising out of the situation, as Pecman says.

And that makes me more willing to roll with the story, getting to know the characters, waiting for the situation to pop up - believably.

But that's me. One question - what about younger readers? The print author I cited on the first posting writes for younger gay readers, (think high school age); and I respect him enormously, he's done so much for that age group. I suspect his conflict-centric approach is deliberate. Would y'all think that's part of How To Write For The Younger Reader - ?

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Oh, good, replies! I would've replied earlier, but I was hoping for discussion, and it was already a long day.

Blue's Writing Philosophy 101 - The Cliff's Notes Version

It is hard to give absolutes about how to write, so my reply may seem like I think anything goes or that it all depends. Not everything goes, not always, and some things are absolutes; but not many.

Story conflict has to feel like it belongs there, for me to believe it. It doesn't matter to me about the source of conflict or the degree of conflict: If I don't believe it, then it doesn't work as a story for me.

Conflict, Drama, Angst?

Oh, first off, what are "conflict, drama, angst?" I like to engage my brain right along with the thrills and chills. I want something to mull over while the heroes and the bad guys are fighting or making things go boom and zap. Translation: Fancy effects, explosions, and hand-to-hand fight scenes need a reason for being, or else they're just eye candy.

Dramatic conflict, call it conflict or drama. Angst is a specific type, which I'll get to in a second. It doesn't have to be a literal fight or argument. It can be a decision or moral dilemma, just as well (or even better). It is the tension in how to get through that conflict and what to do, that carries the audience through the story.

Angst? That's anxiety, worry, fear, the hero or villain getting his or her butt kicked and having to get through it. Oh no, will our hero get through it? Will our side win? Yikes, omigod, eek! -- Oh, look, I'm teasing. Angst can be good in a story, even as one of the main elements, IF it is believable and you give the audience a rest once in a while. Keep it on a slow, building simmer, work up to a mind-blowing climax, and go on. Certain genres of stories benefit from a little or a lot of angst. As a rule, I avoid lots of angst, and think a little goes a long way. But there are times when it can be good to amp up the angst for the story.

Believability?

Hey, I can suspend my disbelief. Fiction, even fantasy or romanticized stories are fine by me, if I can believe that the characters, settings, and plot structure (including conflicts) are plausible, possible. I'll even believe some improbable story elements if the story's good. In fact, I really like it if the story stretches things in a novel way. (Ouch, sorry about the pun.)

Source of the conflict?

Any source will do. I prefer a decision or moral dilemma, as strongest, but another source will do. They usually list all sorts of options for "man (person) versus (fill in the blank)." (Self, another person, nature, machine, supernatural, God, space, time, rubber ducky, etc. Just checking if you're really reading, ;) .) What about man versus fate, destiny, the inevitable? That could work. In any case, I'd hope the author explores what the conflict means within the story. I prefer if it is somehow dramatized through the chars., settings, and plot. I don't mind a little abstract philosophy, but the story is stronger if that philosophy comes out of the story, not the other way around.

Degree of the conflict? (And Frequency.)

Any degree or frequency of conflict will do, if it is believable. It needs to come out of the characters and situations, though.

Too little conflict, and the story will be boring. There has to be some sort of dramatic conflict, or all the fancy writing, high production values, good acting, or good directing won't matter.

Too much conflict, or too often, and you burn out the audience. Oh, gah, are they fighting again? Get over it, already! If the characters go on from conflict to conflict, and never grow or face the consequences, if there is no end, then there is no point to all the drama. It becomes...melodrama and soap opera, ho-hum. Alright, a little melodrama or a soap opera is fine now and then, but not forever. Don't use the "Reset Button" in your stories. It's bad when they do it on TV episodes. Don't do it in your writing!

Find a balance for how much conflict the story needs, and write to that.

Breaking Up and Moving On, Or Not

Breakups, Moving On, Loss, Unrequited Love;

Vengeance, Vendetta, and the Obsessed;

...Or Not!

My comment above, "Are they fighting again?" brings up a point. Hey, maybe they should just break up, already! Hero and villain, hero and hero, hero and heroine (female hero, not cocaine, doofus) -- if they can't stop fighting each other, then they need to resolve it or move on. Now, if they can't, and that's the whole point, then handle things believably, build it up, and do it quickly. If the problem is, they can't get over it, then find a way for them to do so, or a way to go on and live with it, or move on to another thing in the story, or quit the story. Note this applies to both positive and negative relationships.

Aside:

This is not to be callous in the romance department. This is definitely not to belittle those in real life who need a breakup or who can't get over a breakup or loss or an unrequited love. Hey, I'd say you do need to find a way to move on, and one that leads to health and happiness, because there are other people or better people (or both) for you out there.

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There are different genre's in writing simply because different people like to read about different things. The romance story is for those that like emotions, and falling in and out of love. The action story is for those that like quick moving plots. I'm being simplistic, but the first is generally character driven after the initial scene is set, while the later is often driven along by a series of events that appear in sequence (and hopefully a believeable sequence). I'm using these two genres because they tend to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I'm well aware there are many other genre's reflected in gay writing.

There is conflict in both types, but it is of a very different nature, and, as The Pecman said, this is what keeps the reader reading. The romance reader keeps going to see if there is a happy couple at the end or not. The action reader reads to find what is going to happen next and is the hero(ine) going to survive or not (and will they "win").

By its nature, the gay genre tends to have more in common with the romantic/erotic genre, but there are some quite good action stories out there as well.

As for the amount of conflict, that's a judgement call, and it's a very subjective one. If I'm reading a story that is being driven largely by the characters, then I generally only tolerate a small number of "outside" events driving the plot along. A personal dislike is when someone is killed, such as a parent, just to drive the plot along, especially road accidents. Yes, it does happen, but not that often. If it is going to happen, I would prefer it to be near the start of the story, as part of the setting of the scene, rather than introduced later to help keep the story going. Too many of these "outside" events and I find it too unbelievable. It can still be a great story, but it'll be a sore point for me.

On the other hand, a story that is being driven by "outside" events can have a large number of such events without bothering me, because I will be "taught" to expect that from early in the story. Most mainstream action novels are a good example. I will expect a certain degree of internal consistency (like the bad guys keep catching up the to hero and threatening his life somehow, even if he has no ideas who they are or why they are doing it), but I'm happy to accept little details that might otherwise be unbelievable (how do they keep finding him?).

My personal writing tends to be on the character driven side. I'll have some "outside" events occur, but I like to keep them to a minimum.

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Hmmmmm . . . . wisdom.

And good advice. The ?plot-driven? vs. ?character-driven? debate has been part of my head ever since Mr. Fisher?s much-dreaded Accelerated English section, in 12th Grade. I think we compared and contrasted ?Red Badge of Courage? (plot-driven) vs. something by E. M. Forster (character-driven), and I was squarely in the Forster group. Figured I?d go with the gay guy.

(Mr. Fisher, ironically enough, was young and cute enough to star in many stories on this site, and was many a girl?s, and boy?s, heartthrob. Except for me, I couldn?t get past the tweed jacket and elbow patches; a turnoff.)

But since then, I?ve started to write; and post on the Internet. And I know how to write to please myself, but I?ve been terrified of boring my readers. Which gets into a writer?s self-confidence, which is definitely off-topic for this thread.

And, the (blessed) feedback emails I?ve received on my stuff show that . . . some readers, get what ?conflict? or change or tension I?m trying to express, or evoke; and some don?t.

I think I?ll slink away and think about this, a bit.

Thanks, for all the feedback. I?m slightly awed by the names on the posts listed here . . . .

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Guest rusticmonk86

When I find myself wondering about the pacing of my story, I'm probably lost, or have veered off-track. Or maybe I am on the right track and am finding the lead up to the next conflict too slow.

.

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Good point. -- If you (dear writer and reader) reach a point in the story where you're having trouble writing what's next, or it's veering off your plan, that's time to assess where it's going, if it's better for the story, and to decide what to do about that and how to do it.

Gabe mentioned pacing. It's the same for conflict, plot, setting, and characters; especially for characters.

If your story seems to have dried up, the muse packed up and left a "Dear John" letter (which is really troubling if you're not John...) that's one kind of writing problem. If a character won't "talk" to you or won't "act" on something, figure out what he/she/it objects to, and go from there. If it's a plot element that won't work, well, have something else happen.

If your story is galloping all over the place, out of control, your muse is bouncing off the ceiling and flirting with the neighbors, and one character won't shut the heck up and do what needs doing, well, that's another problem. Figure out what has the character so wound up, and go with that. If necessary, tell the character to chill...or let the character keep on talking, so long as he or she has something useful to say. If the plot is generating its own new stuff, good, go with it, unless it's unworkable. Rein in the galloping horses and tell the muse to quit flirting with the neighbors, 'cause you wanna flirt with 'em (unless that'd be horrid...).

What Gabe was saying (simply and concisely) is this: It's a story, you're a writer, you are in control of it, not the other way around. You get to imagine and pretend and be the director of your story. Yes, writers get to invent their own imaginary friends and play god, just a little, and it's all fine, because they (a) know it's a make-believe story and (b) they share it by telling it to others, who then get to imagine themselves in the story too. How cool is that?

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One more thing --

dlgrantsf, if you have a story you'd like to submit for consideration of possible publication on the website, then see the AwesomeDude home page for guidelines and email the story-editor or the site admin.

Poetry submissions go to the poetry-editor, and he'd love to have new stuff too.

If you'd like a beta reader or editor (or a few) to read your story and give an opinion on it, ask for that in the Writer's Workshop or the Editor's Desk of the forum.

Yes, we do select stories and poems. Not everything gets on the site, but hey, we are friendly and we like good work. New writers have a good chance to be included. We like recommendations for authors and stories.

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And just adding to Blue's last post, I was a new writer two years ago, and I remember how nervous I was when I started posting my first story. I was lucky in that I didn't get any real negative feedback, but I didn't start by posting at Nifty. I also had a couple of people mentor me and make suggestions on how to improve as I went along -- something I found immeasurably helpful.

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Thanks, all.

I certainly will post here, at some point; I may have a short story freeing up soon, and if/when it does, I'll try passing it by Dude.

Didn't mean to leave the impression that I'm morbidly self-questioning; I'd frame it more as me asking myself the kinds of internal questions we all do, as part of the writing process; as part of the process of reviewing our own work. And as part of the process of getting better at what we do: (it's always fun, following an author and watching him . . . improving. Over time. I have ambitions to do the same.)

I will say, being relatively new to this site, that when I saw listings for quite a few of the (best) authors I know from Nifty, it was like - wow! A distinguished group; I'm looking forward to reading more.

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What an interesting discussion!

I hope you don?t mind another guy agreeing with you (because too much agreement leads to too little angst :D ), but dramatic tension makes a story.

And sadly, I?m challenged in that respect. I understand that it?s natural for city writers to include all sorts of conflict, while writers with rural backgrounds tend to write about duck hunting with their cousins on a sunny day. My roots are rural.

And I think older guys sometimes find it harder to keep up the necessary tension in a story for the same reason our music gets milder as we age; our spirits mellow. I?m older.

But despite those two strikes against me, I have experienced enough of the conflicts and struggles of the heart common to human relationships that if I can simply remember to write honestly about those things, there will always be a bit of tension to my stories.

Truth is, all of our lives have tensions. Even what appear to be our most mundane struggles can often mask a deep turmoil.

Shalom Aleichem once said that give him any randomly selected person (actually, I think he said something more like any stranger walking across the dessert or such), and he could get ten good novels from their life.

Some readers have had more than enough of life?s passions and read for escape. Some, thrive on the energy of a well-conflicted story. And there are stories for both. But no matter the nature of the story ? no matter whether simple or involved ? if it is aimed for the human heart, then it should move it. And what moves hearts best is triumph; triumph through, over, or in spite of conflict.

Now if I could just practice what I preach?

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I hope you don?t mind another guy agreeing with you (because too much agreement leads to too little angst :D ), but dramatic tension makes a story.

Just to prove that we don't agree completely, I have to mildly disagree with a couple of things you said.

And sadly, I?m challenged in that respect. I understand that it?s natural for city writers to include all sorts of conflict, while writers with rural backgrounds tend to write about duck hunting with their cousins on a sunny day. My roots are rural.

I think it's more natural to write about what they are familiar with. That does vary from rural to urban, but there are certainly types of conflict that span both environments -- people are still people, after all.

My roots are urban, though I now live in a semi-rural area. Despite, or because, of that, all three of my novels are set outside of cities. I've done that partially because there are so many stories set in cities that I wanted to be different, plus there are only a handful of stories set in the Australian countryside, but I also find it fascinating. The way of life in a rural setting can be quite different to an urban setting and that offers up some interesting possibililties.

And I think older guys sometimes find it harder to keep up the necessary tension in a story for the same reason our music gets milder as we age; our spirits mellow. I?m older.

Speak for yourself! :D Of course, it depends on your definition of old. However, I have to concede that I find it hard for me to write characters that don't act logically. In New Brother, I wanted to David and Adam to maintain their conflict, but I had a lot of trouble with David keeping his attitude to gays -- I just considered him too sensible to disbelieve the evidence in front of his eyes. I therefore had to find another reason for conflict.

Truth is, all of our lives have tensions. Even what appear to be our most mundane struggles can often mask a deep turmoil.

Okay, I'll agree with this one.

Some readers have had more than enough of life?s passions and read for escape. Some, thrive on the energy of a well-conflicted story. And there are stories for both. But no matter the nature of the story ? no matter whether simple or involved ? if it is aimed for the human heart, then it should move it. And what moves hearts best is triumph; triumph through, over, or in spite of conflict.

Tragedy also moves the heart strongly. It reminds the readers that "And they lived happily ever after" isn't universal.

PS: I was thinking of moving this thread to the Writers Workshop forum. What do people think?

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Yes, it should've been in the Writer's Workshop to begin with. I could claim that it's 'cause I thought I might confound a new member, but really, it was just me being thick. :D

Moving the thread now.... Everybody hang on, here goes! :bam:

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...I get all tingly after that transporter...

Angst? Some stories need it. Some don't. Do you like delicate? Jangly? Urban versus Rural? Lots of neutral earth tones? Vibrant tropical colors?

Variety. There's plenty o' room for whatever makes a good story. (Good story? I mean one worth reading or hearing or watching, not a moral judgment.)

Well, that sounds kinda wishy-washy and overly generalized. Wish I had something insightful to add.

I'm mostly a city guy, but I'd sure be lost without my rural friends and relatives! I like both.

So a little angst, a little peace and quiet.

Pass the tater salad!

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And sadly, I?m challenged in that respect. I understand that it?s natural for city writers to include all sorts of conflict, while writers with rural backgrounds tend to write about duck hunting with their cousins on a sunny day. My roots are rural.

That's not necessarily true. I'm about to start writing a story that mainly centers on rural areas in Missouri, Nevada, and parts East, and there's all kinds of conflict there: injury & disease (not always a doctor around in rural areas), fires (dittos with firemen), fighting (a universal human condition), even murder.

I emphasize that conflict can also come out of the situation, and doesn't necessarily have to include violence. My net-friend Mark Roeder's gay teen romance books have almost all been rural-based, but he's got conflict up the ying-yang in those books.

One could make a good argument that those who live in rural areas don't necessarily have an easier (or less stressful) life than those in the city. It's a different life, but just as tough and full of conflict as the other.

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