Conflict: Where a Story Begins

Sometimes it seems as if most books and movies today are glorified comic books, epic battles between the good and the impossibly evil. Conflicts in which there are no shades of gray must be satisfying for many people, but I like a little more subtlety in my conflicts, a little more reality.

In a world that seems to be run by the major corporations, the stories where a lone hero takes on a megalithic corporation, brings down the owner of the company, and saves the world just are not plausible. Though I’m sure the presidents of the major corporations think they are indispensable, they are not. If they are eliminated, there will always be others to take their place, and the corporations will go on doing whatever it is that they do.

Because I know this and cannot escape it even in a world of my own creation, the conflicts in my books tend to be less clearly defined. Of course I have heroes and villains, but the villains are not always dastardly ones, though my other characters may perceive them as such. The villains are the heroes of their own story, and though a corporation is often the villains’ vehicle, my heroes don’t bring it down.

I like my heroes to find a romantic partner, a co-protagonist. It seems to dissipate the energy of the story if the two are always in conflict. I prefer it when they bond together in their struggle against fate (or an employee of a corporation as the personification of fate). To me, the biggest villain around is fate. What is more unfair, more murderous, more disastrous than fate?

My heroes never bring on their fate. Perhaps my books would be more dramatic if they did, but I cannot sympathize with characters who are the cause of their own problems. And why do they have to when life itself is always ready to cause problems for them?

When fate comes knocking on the door, everything changes. And that’s when a real story, not a comic book, begins.

3 Responses to “Conflict: Where a Story Begins”

  1. nomananisland Says:

    Hello Bertram. I just read this post, now I’m going to go explore the rest of your blog if you don’t mind. But you seem a very clear and interesting writer, so I have a proposition for you, as an objective individual.

    I have written my first novel. I was raised on comic books and fantasy stories and science fiction. My novel seems on the surface to be about one of those “save the world” conflicts. But, in fact, the real conflict is more an internal one with a particular character’s nature (perhaps their inborn fate) but it is done subtly. A deep analysis of structure and meaning would reveal it, I hope, but not a superficial reader.

    Right now, there seems nothing superficial about your perspectives. My proposition is thus — when you have time, would you be willing to check out my book and leave comments? I’m only posting a chapter a day, but your insight into conflict might be able to help me see if I’ve accomplished what I set out to do — write a seemingly epic story that’s really about one character’s conflict with themself.

    http://nomananisland.wordpress.com if you’re interested 🙂

  2. Bertram Says:

    I’ll take a look at your story when I can, but keep in mind I am an unpublished writer, too. I don’t know how much validity my opinion has.

  3. nomananisland Says:

    I judge your validity by three criteria:

    1. The quality of your own blog, which is coherent, correct, and interesting enough that I asked for your insight.

    2. You want to write and are bored with bad writing — if I suck, I strongly suspect you’ll tell me so, because you’re already analyzing texts.

    3. The humility to say you’re not sure of your validity makes me think you’re more rational than most — too much enthusiasm would make me think you weren’t a serious writer. Too much arrogance about your ability and I wouldn’t be interested in what you had to say, because you wouldn’t be objective.

    I can tell a lot about how someone thinks and reads by the way they write — and I like your writing.


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