Conflicting Desires

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 1119
Joined: February 22nd, 2010, 4:08 pm
Location: Tucson, Arizona, USA

Conflicting Desires

Post by dios4vida » March 13th, 2012, 11:58 am

So while we were in Vegas, one of the amazing discussions we had was about a character's conflicting desires. Can you make them want two things, equally badly, but they can only have one? It's a great area for inner conflict and character development.

I was supposed to ask Margo this question at least half a dozen times before we left but continually forgot, so I'll ask here (for her and all you other brilliant Bransforumers): How soon do you need to introduce this conflict?

Obviously, the best answer is "as soon as possible". But if they start off doing one thing, then they come to want something else (like a relationship with their quest-mate, for an example), when is the "threshold" for the latest you should introduce this? It can't happen overnight, or right away, otherwise it will feel forced - but I don't want to introduce this too late where the stakes will feel too low. Is there a happy place to start bringing this additional conflict into play?
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

Posts: 707
Joined: June 9th, 2010, 3:57 pm
Location: Quebec

Re: Conflicting Desires

Post by Claudie » March 13th, 2012, 1:45 pm

I asked, specifically, if it could come with the first plot point, and the answer was "it would be better before that".

Rereading Story Engineering, I can understand why. The first quarter of your novel is where you take the time to set up all these things, and if you wait for the FPP, then you lose all that space you need to do it properly. I do believe the desire can change or evolve through the novel, but the core of it should be established before you launch the story into higher spheres. Things I think you can do:

- Have one major desire/fear at first, and have the conflicting emotion appear early on and grow through the story, to the point of getting in the way of the first desire.
- Establish your character's desire/fear and allow the First Plot Point to change how he relates to it.

Introducing it early is important. Essential, even. Giving it all the power and meaning at the very start, though... I don't know, it seems it'd make for a better story to scale it and twist it as you go.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

User avatar
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel

Re: Conflicting Desires

Post by polymath » March 13th, 2012, 5:15 pm

Conflicting desires are the bread and butter of internal conflict. Dramatic conflict as I know it is diametrically opposing forces, motivations, stakes, and outcomes. For example, life or death, riches or rags, damnation or salvation, and the forces that influence those oppositions.

A way of looking at internal conflict, how and when it comes into play, examines what causes it. Causation. The next-door Jones buy a new car. That's one--a bridging complication, or bridging conflict Donald Maass calls it.

Larry is jealous, angry he can't afford a new car. He's disappointed with his beach boy beater rolling wreck of a car that had been his beloved pride and joy. That's a Discovery, a first minor turn. He does what? Nothing much at first. He grumbles. At work, he asks for a raise. No, he's told. That's two, a Reversal, another minor turn. He finds out his work peers at the bumper boat park at the beach got raises and wonders why he didn't. Show why he doesn''t, routine tardyism and absenteeism, poor work productivity. He's looking at losing his job. That's three, another Discovery and turn. Three's enough to incite a crisis. Larry is compelled to act. Taking action is a Reversal of circumstances. In this case, intertruptions of Larry's routine. He now has a want or desire he didn't have before. He's changed from the get-go and on a wild ride of internal and external clashes toward ongoing changes and in the end he's profoundly transformed. An inciting crisis is a first major turn, incorporating a major discovery and reversal.

For universal appeal, high-concept premises are ideal for creating conflict writing-wise. Wanting to keep up with the Jones is high-concept. What opposes it? Larry wants to remain unchanged. Change is risky. Change is problematic. It takes a lot of effort to compel change when a person refuses to change. What cause opposes Larry wanting to keep up with the Jones? He's broke, flat skin-flinted. He self-justifies not trying by thinking new cars are ostentatious displays of wealth. If he buys a new car, he will be ostracized by his beach bum surfer acquaintances. Another external clash there in the offing.

However, artful internal conflicts tend to be low concept: subtext, figurative rather than literal, subjective, and abstract or intangible because they involve emotions. So introspection, sensation, and conversation are essential for showing internal conflicts. Plus action.

Conflict begins at a beginning, a First Cause that starts the causation train rolling. The train starts off from a standstill, creeps along gaining momentum, until it's rolling flat out, barrelling down the track.

If I were to write about Larry's insuperable struggle, I would start off with describing how he perceives the Jones's new car. I'd use the car as an object to set the scene in context for orienting readers to the persons, places, times, situations, and narrative voice attitudes so readers pick up the who, what, when, where, how, and why they are during the ride on the runaway causation freight train and should care about Larry's insuperable struggle.

How's internal conflict done? Pour on the hardship, at least two, idealy three compelling circumstances that upset emotional equilibrium and escalate disequilibrium to the point a character has to take action. For theme's power to unify, I'd be looking at Larry as a young man on the cusp of middle adulthood struggling with growing up. Wanting to stay an early adult, but conflicted by wanting the rights and privileges of full adulthood and turning back because he's afraid of the obligations and responsibilities entailed therein. Bye Bye Miss American Pie by Don Maclean is about that internal conflict, as is Carlo Collodi's Pinnochio.
Spread the love of written word.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests