Friday, September 7, 2012

The Apple Said, "To the Fairest"

#23    Conflict is always more interesting than harmony.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -- Leo Tolstoy

I strive to treat everyone around me with respect and consideration. I want all my friends and acquaintances to be blessed and happy. I hope everyone feels the same for me. In the words of Rodney King, "can't we all just get along?" I seek the righteous way and try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. The Savior taught, "Blessed are the peacemakers." I seek this blessing: in my life, my family, my work and my community.

In my writing, not so much.

Try to live your life the opposite from how you write. The desire for harmony is a habit of thought that good people have to overcome if they are to write. Yes, you have to work to become evil, but you don't have to work to hard. That's human nature for you. The writer should become his characters' personal Satan when composing a work of fiction.

Are all your characters happy and living at peace and in harmony with all around them? BORING. When Tolstoy said happy families are all alike, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out those all-alike families are BORING. Then Tolstoy went on to write about an unhappy family. For one thing, the unhappiness will be unique and the uniqueness, the NOVELTY will make the NOVEL more interesting.

Your job as writer is to lob the apple of discord into the festivities. What sort of conflict do you need? It depends upon your characters. It's a cheap stunt, but you can make one of your characters insane and that insanity prompt him/her to start stabbing people. It's more interesting to take two sane, compassionate, competent, well-educated characters and give them contradictory premises to act out to their logical conclusions.

Perhaps the kind, and godly man wants to save a soul from eternal damnation. Thus he subjects the "heretic" girl to unspeakable tortures in hopes of her repentance and salvation from harsher pains of Hell. Give reasonable characters some basic notions that are alien to the reader. I can't see going to war with someone who disagrees with me about the Transubstantiation of the elements of the eucharist, but it has happened in history. (Persecuting users of the vi text editor? Perfectly understanding, because Emacs rules!)

In a world of scarce goods, conflict often arises from competition for them. Perhaps you have two handsome, dashing, loving brothers who agree about everything, including their high regard for the girl next door. Ah, the girl next door changes everything. You, the writer, must make sure the girl doesn't have a twin sister and you must make sure they do not agree about which brother should get the girl. (OK, in the last chapter when your Deus Ex Machina shows up, make HIM point out the girl's twin sister separated at birth who has just arrived from Brazil.)

In life I find that more conflict is caused by misunderstanding than by bad intent. I well recall noting with pride aloud at some handicrafts my children had made, saying, "We have a crafty family." My daughter, a recipient of this praise, responded with justified heat, "We are not a crappy family." It took a moment to convince her I'd said, "crafty," and not "crappy," but things were tense for a while there.

Shakespeare was the master of creating misunderstanding that he used to great dramatic effect. Juliet takes a sleeping drug, but Romeo thinks she's dead and kills himself whereupon moments later she awakes, learns of his death by misunderstanding and then kills herself in turn.

In my story, From Greenland's Icy Mountains, four World War 2 pilots are rescued from certain death by a pair of time travelers named Sid & Nell. However, they couldn't stage the rescue from some futuristic hideout, so they fabricate a bogus Nazi radio shack filled with museum-quality reproductions. It works fine until the pilots see the swastikas and pull their service pistols.

I can't remember who said it, but every story should take place in hell until the last chapter when it ends in paradise. Show no mercy on your characters, set them on each others' throats. Dog fighting and bear baiting are illegal, but there is no such law against writing fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Those more worthy than I: