Characters in Conflict

We bump up against each other most every day. Kids bear cub their way into each others personal space. We feel that conflict at our house with everyone home for summer. Adults maintain that space better, but we feel tension in less physical ways. Our weaknesses—or strengths—rise to the surface of our actions and slam against some other personality.

I attended a fiction writer’s workshop in Minnesota where author Lauraine Snelling taught that as you create characters, you create conflict. What happens next becomes the story.

Developing Characters

In the fiction marketplace the words, “character-driven fiction,” pop out to me. While this may be a way to differentiate author styles, Lauraine emphasized that rich, well-developed characters should drive all fiction writing. In fact, she said, “I know a story is ready to write when I know the characters, and they start talking in my head.”

She took us through a process of asking questions about our character. These questions moved beyond physical description into questions about the character’s strongest or weakest character trait, his or her background or habits.

Asking and answering such questions is how we develop characters. Since it’s hard to imagine something that isn’t there, we rely on what we know—the people around us or the traits we have. While fiction writers can use pieces of what they know, the exercise itself builds a unique character with his or her own story.

Adding What’s Different

I’m a people watcher, an observer of why people do things the way they do. That makes me a critic sometimes, but I’m repenting of that. That curiosity, though, plants seeds for my writing ideas.

“When you’re trying to create a novel, don’t just write about people who are just like you,” Lauraine said, “Ask yourself, ‘Who do I need in this story to create conflict?'”

When we use different age groups or put in people from other areas or background, we invite them to bump up against each other. That creates tension and conflict.

Allowing for Conflict

In my real life, I’m sensitive to this conflict between individuals. I notice it. It feels uncomfortable, and I want to diminish it. Through those interactions, though, I smooth my own rough edges.

In my fiction worlds, I want to not only recognize it, but highlight it and allow it to influence my characters in their quest. In the process, the characters will be more real and their stories more interesting.

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1 Comment

  1. L Jensen
    Aug 10, 2010

    I have observed that the differences in people and the way they interact with each other are a facinating study. I often learn positive behavior from those who make that interaction have positive outcomes. Observation is a good thing to teach young people as they refine themselves into who they want to be.

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