Monday, August 10, 2009

Pointing and Viewing Conflict

We've had a couple of fun discussions going on over on my Yahoo group where several of my students from recent online class have decided to take up residence. We've been discussing both point of view, and conflict. As I say i every one of the classes that I teach: it's almost impossible when talking about the craft of writing fiction to talk about solely one aspect of that craft. Commercial genre fiction is more than one aspect of writing, just as a a cake is more than an egg.

The point of view you choose in writing directly impacts upon the kind of conflict you end up working with. Not only the point of view character you choose to write from, but also the style of point of view: first person, third person, tight third. In first person point of view you are likely going to have a lot more internal conflict than you would in regular third person point of view.

A side note: you may notice that when I talk about writing. I tend to use the word "likely" a lot. That's because there is no one 'every time -- all the time' rule in writing, except of course things like grammar and spelling. I have this fear --- and yes it does happen --- that if I say something like "first person point of view has far more internal conflict" that I'm going to get comments on this blog, pointing out specific stories where first person point of view lacks internal conflict. I know that. As I said, there is no every time -- all the time rule.

So back to point of view and conflict. If you're writing first person point of view or tight third point of view, you are likely going to have a lot more internal conflict. I think one of the reasons for this is obvious. But if not, here it is: you're dropping the reader tightly and intimately into the character's skin. When you do that, the character's thoughts and feelings are in the forefront.

The point of view character you choose, whether in tight third a regular third, greatly affects the form of the conflict. Each character starts out in a story with a goal or a set of goals, which likely will change or morph as the story progresses. The thwarting of these goals is what creates conflict. How that conflict is structured depends upon how you build your character. Is he an introspective chap? Is she a gregarious gal? Does he say one thing and think another? Was she raised in a home where her opinions are not valued? All these kinds of things, many of which are back story, impinge on conflict.

I apologize if to any of you, this sounds simplistic. But I judge a lot of unpublished writing in national contests, and I teach a lot of classes to unpublished writers. Sometimes the most simple things are the ones that are overlooked. This includes the integration of the various segments of the craft of fiction, which is why I'm talking about point of view and conflict.

One of the most common questions --- that Jacqueline has addressed here many times --- is whose point of view should I be in? The obvious answer is the point of view of the character, who has the most to lose at that point in the story. Or as Jacqueline puts it: the character who is on the positive pole of the transaction. The character whose actions will make a difference. Obviously, if the character's actions make a difference, this creates an emotional reaction in the reader, because it changes the flow of the story. So the two are really very well intertwined.

So when you're creating your characters remember to create them with conflict in mind. Structure them in such a way that the plot allows you to question and challenge their goals and their values.

I love literary agent Donald Maas's tip: "Take your character's greatest strength and make it his greatest weakness."

That's the purest form of choosing the proper point of view, and integrating it with conflict.


HOPE’S FOLLY, Book 3 in the Gabriel’s Ghost universe, Feb. 2009 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

She fought the urge to salute and instead watched him head for a striper standing in the corridor, realizing she didn’t know his name or rank. Not that it mattered. There was something very familiar about him, something that resonated in a distant yet warm part of her heart. Something that told her she not only trusted him but that she’d follow him into the jaws of hell and out again. And never regret it.

1 comment:

  1. Linnea:

    Oh, I hate to do this to Linnea, but ...

    You wrote:
    "...there is no one 'every time -- all the time' rule in writing, except of course things like grammar and spelling."

    Ah,um, ROBERT A. HEINLEIN MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. (sorry about that)

    But I should point out here that Beginning writing students should not attempt doing these things that are unusual or unlikely until they've reached Mastery.

    As with any art or craft, you must first learn to execute the maneuvers as they are usually done, then add your own twists.

    MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS was a book RAH wrote way late in his career with ever so much careful and meticulous practice at each and every rule he broke in that book.

    Imagine a two year old being taught to tango. Now you know why you should learn first things first, practice until you've mastered them, then do the fancy stuff.

    Linnea has begun to tackle the cross-integration of skills I have been gearing up to talk about. I won't dive into it very deep this week, though, but I recommend anyone who's interested in applying these techniques should read my previous posts here on this blog.

    I have yet to discuss Plot-Character integration that Linnea just started, and Theme-Plot integration, and every other pair of techniques, then show you how to integrate them in larger bundles -- THEN demonstrate the technique of breaking "rules" and thus making new rules.

    You can find some of this integration of techniques material in my (free) online Writing Workshop posts at

    Or to find posts by a number of other teachers see -- and click on the left where it says CHOOSE A TEACHER.

    Gee, I wish I were on this Yahoo group Linnea keeps mentioning.