Previous parts in this series are indexed at:
In Part 14, we noted in passing how resolving a subconscious conflict can change a reader's taste in fiction.
People grow up reading Romance genre, then just drift away once they have found their spouse. Others, hitting hard going in marriage, drift back to reading Romance, but look for a different sort of setting, or problem or issue.
Romance novels used to serve only the young women who wanted wish-fulfillment fantasy come true. Today's older women readers were once just such young girls, but now they want a different story.
One such popular new story is, the divorced or widowed heroine makes her own way in a tough world and becomes a kickass heroine in her own right -- then meets her Soul Mate.
Another whole panoply of stories have emerged in the Vampire Romance and other Paranormal creatures women are fascinated by.
Each of these sub-genres emerges, sells huge for years, then submerges, perhaps surviving with a smaller readership.
Why does this happen?
As a reader (all writers are voracious readers) you know you have times when you're not in the mood for this kind of book, but will leap into that kind.
Moods come and go, but through life the mood that predominates will shift from one kind of book to another, and yet another.
One theory seems to cover most all of the mysterious changes people undergo with age. And it's all about Conflict.
We say that as you become old, you don't become different, but you become "more-so." Whatever traits persist and dominate across the phases of life, from High School, to College, to first job, to Marriage, to kids, to empty-nest, become engrained, perfected, showcased as seminal to the personality.
Or put another way, every human has within both a Wolf and a Tiger fighting for their life. Which one will win? The one you feed the most. It's up to you to choose which of your traits will predominate.
In other words, as we mature, the fight-to-the-death within us begins. Everyone has an internal conflict, and as that conflict see-saws back and forth, we make irrevocable life-course choices, and sometimes have to ditch an entire decade or more of investment, and just take off in another direction.
As we wrestle with these decisions, mostly on a subconscious level, we search for clues in our real world environment, and we search for interpretations of our real world environment in our fiction.
Different genres specialize in different sorts of Conflict, but all genres of fiction focus "story" around a "conflict."
Conflict is the essence of story.
We are fascinated by certain stories because the Conflicts that drive those stories are derived from the same Master Theme that roils around underneath our real world lives. There's a resonance, a harmony, that energizes the subconscious issues that discomfort us.
Readers and writers discuss theme by sharing a story, walking miles in the Main Character's moccasins, and ultimately in addressing and resolving Conflict.
The fictional piece is energized and driven by a Conflict as ferocious as the conflict inside all humans. Once fed enough, one element in that conflict will prevail, and the conflict will be over. Peace, inner peace, and very often peace in the surrounding world will prevail.
It will prevail until a new conflict is joined, a new topic, a new problem in life.
Sometimes readers continue or resume reading a favorite genre, entertained by the predictable, reliable, firm resolution of the conflict. But very often, readers will feel they have outgrown a genre because the conflict that genre specializes seems like something only a child or young adult would still be wrestling with.
Writers often come to writing late enough in life that they have resolved some conflicts, and experienced the peace that brings. Such writers may want to share that peace with readers.
It doesn't work on a commercial level. It can work with family and friends who have been associated with the writer through the fight and resolution, but it doesn't "sell."
A personal story, a memoir, or autobiography is of interest only to those who have some knowledge of who this person is. The main character in a world of fiction has to be introduced to the reader, all fresh and new, yet somehow familiar.
The "yet somehow familiar" (or 'give me something the same but different') part is the Conflict and the underlying theme that fires up that Conflict.
New writers, I have found, most often sidestep, duck, or ignore their Character's internal conflict.
I'm not the only one who has noticed this common issue among new writers.
Here is an excerpt from a blog I follow on Twitter about Screenwriting.
A few years ago, I posted this question on my blog: Why do we find conflict entertaining? The responses were fascinating and informative:
- Conflict is interesting: In real life, we tend to socialize with likeminded people, so when we see characters in a movie who disagree, argue and fight, that is different and therefore stimulating.
- Conflict is speaking one’s mind: In our daily lives, we often have to bite our tongue, but movie characters can give voice to things we wish we had the opportunity and courage to say.
- Conflict involves risk: Whereas we may play it safe in our regular routines, we never know what could happen with characters involved in a conflict, an unpredictable dynamic implicit in every fight.
- Conflict requires stakes: Characters don’t get into conflict unless there is something of importance at stake.
- Conflict is about goals: One character wants one thing, another character wants something different.
- Conflict is a battle of wills: There is always the question, “Who is going to win” which makes for an intriguing scenario.
- Conflict is emotional: When characters are engaged in a struggle, it is not a mere exercise in logic, but charged up with feelings.
Notice how superficial these answers are, but every one of them would satisfy a professional Editor at a traditional publishing house. They are not, however, useful from the writer's operational perspective to answer the question: How do you DO THAT?
Think about each of those answers and about which sorts of Themes can best drive one of those conflict hooks.
Each of those reasons for being interested by conflict defines a Readership.
Which readership is naturally yours?
Feed the Readership you want to prevail in the real world Conflicts that are tearing you apart inside.
Ponder all that we've discussed about Theme, how to define it, how to use it, and how to blend it seamlessly, integrate it into a work of fiction to make that fiction a work of Art.
Once you have your Theme you will not be conflict-shy, pulling back or tip-toeing around a Conflict your Characters must resolve.
As you progress through life, you will evolve new Themes and new conflicts. Literary critics define "periods" in a writer's life, and whether they know it or not, they are tracing that writer's personal resolution of personal internal conflicts.
When you're finished with a Conflict, you are finished. You are at Peace. And Peace is not Story. Peace is what happens between Stories that happen to Characters.
Peace is not "Happily Ever After." Many who disbelieve in the Happily Ever After ending think happiness is perpetual peace. It isn't. And that, in itself, constitutes a Theme Bundle -- an entire array of statements about reality.
If you, as a writer, want to share the experience of peace from conflict with your readers, learn to share the moment of resolution of a conflict. That resolution-moment is the climax of your story and your plot (in the same Event, at the same moment, on the same page). How and by what a conflict is resolved is your Theme. The theme generates the conflict and resolves it.
Conflict isn't interesting for any of the reasons in the quoted list. Conflict is interesting because of what/how/when it RESOLVES. That's part of the reason viewers want a remake of Season 8 of Game of Thrones.
Here is a post on nesting Themes, creating a theme bundle that is large enough to support a long-running series (novels, TV shows, spinoffs).