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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Conflict through Dilemma

   
Author Topic: Conflict through Dilemma
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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An interesting exploration of something that can make conflict in a story truly gripping.
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LDWriter2
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I haven't read the whole thing yet but I think I got the gist.


Very interesting and I can see why it would make sense.


Easy reading too.

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MartinV
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Makes sense but I must say if I make my thinking too organized, I tend to write a blocky story, one that you can feel was put together out of several topics. I tend to read such stuff, then let them seep into my story engine. If anything sticks, that's fine with me.
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extrinsic
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Interesting heirarchy for a composition organizing principle. Just dramatic structure alone can be simplistic, perhaps too simplistic for a given target audience. Another interesting feature of Maslow's Pyramid shows how to appeal to broad-based audiences with high-concept premises that are universal and primal, and low-concept premises that are less universal and more abstract the higher up the heirarchy tiers are. It's worth noting Maslow's Pyramid has five tiers, paralleling a five-act structure.

Other models from other disciplines serve similar organizing purposes, like the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. Similarly, five stages of grief matches up with a Freytag five-act structure: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, for expostition (introduction), rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement acts.

Allen defines conflict differently to a degree than I'm accustomed to. He focuses on opposing forces, antagonism's role, and doesn't fully express stakes and outcomes' role in dramatic conflict.

Allen's take is closer to my sense of dramatic complication, a want or wants with variable, not neccesarily diametric opposition from internal and external forces posing obstacles to achieving the want. My definition of conflict, not solely mine but a product of research into and education about narrative theory, is diametrically opposing forces that also relate to stakes and outcomes: life or death, acceptance or rejection, riches or rags, salvation or damnnation, etc., dilemma for sure.

I might use Maslow's Pyramid as a model for choosing staged, escalating complication: a protagonist discovers from a need a want and from discovering the want discovers a greater want, like needing food leads to wanting respect by others, in turn, wanting a reputation for morality from being selfless and sharing food with others. Tension, antagonism, and causation escalate through the process of satisfying progressively presenting wants. Hmm, and opposition like from the myth of Tantalus--from which we have the word tantalise, temptation without satisfaction--who sought two mutually opposing and seemingly irreconcilable outcomes, neither easily achievable. The outcome not a compromise but a discovery of how to satisfy an improbable spectrum of wants.

[ May 13, 2012, 12:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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ForlornShadow
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It's an interesting concept. When you really think about it, its true. Conflict, at least conflict that interests readers, stems from a choice to fulfill a need in the pyramid. Thanks for posting it.
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Osiris
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Thanks for this, Kathleen. I'm going to apply this to my current WoTF WIP. It is a bit tricky since my protagonist isn't human, or even organic, but I think I can make it work.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The pyramid, as useful as it may be, wasn't the thing that struck me the most about this blog post (and hence the reason I posted the link).

What struck me was the idea that two or more conflicting needs are what can make a story truly gripping (regardless of whether there is an antagonist or not, or who that antagonist may be and want/need in turn).

Every so often, I see people talking about the stories they're working on in terms of One Main Conflict, and I would like to encourage them to think about adding an additional conflict to really make things interesting for the characters and the reader.

It just seems to me that characters who struggle with a dilemma between too (or more) worthy goals that are in opposition have much more interesting struggles to read about.

A recent example that many of you may have heard of might be the book (and movie), THE HELP, in which several characters struggled each with their own alternate conflict that impinged on their part in the Main Conflict.

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Osiris
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This thread, and as you pointed out Kathleen, the idea of two conflicting needs, has spawned a diagram of my own that I'm calling the conflict wheel. I'm working on it, but hope to share it in some form when I've finished it to see if it makes sense to others as well.
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Tom Miller
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I am intrigued by the idea of conflicting conflicts (my spin on Kathleen's last post) and wonder if need confusion is one form of that. I am thinking of situations where characters think they want one thing and the story is about them finding out they really need something else entirely. Similarly, i wonder how much of the reader's interest is sparked by how a character actually moves toward change or need, rather than the idea of change or need. Many of the above posts reminded me that to describe such motion we must first have gradations or signposts to describe where we are and where we want to be. That is what Maslow's diagram does for me, helps figure out "from what to what."

Thanks.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Looking forward to seeing what you come up with, Osiris.

Good points, Tom Miller. Thanks for the insight.

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