Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: September 14, 2003
Reposted on: September 26, 2004
Reposted on: October 2, 2005
A key element in fiction, as in life, is
conflict. Conflict creates
There are many types of conflict, and just
as many ways to
categorize them. In
short stories, the focus will usually be on a single type of conflict.
longer works, we'll usually find a mixture of conflicts. Hamlet is in
with himself, with his uncle, with his friends and society - so we have
versus self, person versus person, person versus society. (And this is
cursory look at that play!)
For this exercise, we'll focus on "person
versus God". Taken
gives us epic or biblical images: Job, perhaps, or Prometheus, who
from the gods only to suffer eternal punishment. Obviously, some great
are based on this concept!
One of the problems with this conflict,
though, is that it relies on
personal belief in or concept of God (or Goddess, or gods). As well, a
conflict gives the protagonist a fighting chance, but who can fight an
all-powerful god? That conflict, therefore, usually leads to tragedy.
variants could include person versus fate, or luck, or simple
unknowable forces that have an impact on our lives. (Think of Murphy's
On some days, we might want to get
something done, but somehow,
stands in the way and that anticipated event never occurs. (This form
conflict is often, but not always, associated with comedy.)
This goes the other way as well - we often
feel that something "was
happen", or that luck is on our side at a particular moment. Those
forces can be favourable as well. For example, in The Lord of the
characters battle various evil forces, in particular the powerful
there are other forces at work to help out our heroes. Thus there can
conflict within conflict, forces acting in our favour opposing forces
So, the exercise. In 300-600 words, show
someone faced with such a
against God or gods or fate or luck. Some caution is needed, of course,
things credible - if John is unable to get to the corner store to get
because first of all the car was stolen, then there wass an earthquake,
war broke out - well, readers will only accept so much coincidence or
major events out of the blue. Build a sequence of events in a natural
Try to think of small, innocent, things that have bigger impacts. The
slid behind the sofa cushions. In looking for them, he cut his hand on
spring. Because he was bleeding, he did not pay attention going down
stairs, and slipped on the toy the neighbour's kid left there.
This concept, of small things leading to
big consequences, is a very
tool in story-telling.
Remember also that a story is not about
things happening, but about
dealing with what happens. So how does your character react to these
Does the character feel anger or self pity? Does the character
change direction? Those reactions set the scene for the next part of
As usual, it is not necessary to write an
entire story, or to bring
closure - it is enough to create a scene that presents someone
against some hidden force or forces that, for no apparent reason, stand
way, and reacting to that.
When critiquing, look at what forces are
at play, and how the events
the conflict really person versus god/fate, or is the author cheating
the conflict be with another person? Does the character react in a
and interesting - way? If anything stretches credibility, say so. On
hand, also point out the things that work well.
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 3 Oct 2004
The larger percentage of the submissions
this time dealt with a
of a god figure within the conflict of the story. Some stories used
surprising ways that was central to the conflict; others were serious.
were hard luck and woe-is-me stories of fate.
Clever use of conflict provided for lots
of 'Oh God Why Me?'
Creative imaginations were at work in the submissions. Emotions were
present, including anger and humor. Unsympathetic characters sometimes
endearing human qualities. Frailties of human nature were depicted and
some stories extended to the god figure in the conflict. Both reverent
irreverent uses of a god figure were employed in ways that encouraged
Most successful were the submissions that
used conflict in a way
natural, not labored, even when the conflict required enormous
suspension of disbelief.
Next time consider meeting more challenges
of a well-defined
attempt to write a subtle conflict and see what problems must be
doing so. Or you may want to challenge yourself to use a conflict
conflict that involves some helpful and some detrimental forces within
more complicated plot structure. I know, I know, so hard to do in the
limited word count, but that's what makes it such a rewarding
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.