Sunday, June 17, 2007

Constant Conflict

So I'm writing along, a variation on stranger-comes-to-town. I've got these six characters, each with his or her own agenda and all on a collision course. There's been one terrible crime 'out front' where we all see it, and others happening in the background, where even I'm not entirely sure. Before long, there'll be blood on the walls...

One reason I write 'full throttle' is that I really, really want to find out what's going to happen. What sorta sucks about writing is that I HAVE TO write my way, one word at a freakin time, up to the end.

Yesterday I wrote a phone call. Yup, a phone call.

My hero on this one's a bit of a drifter, so there's not a lot of point in him carrying a cell phone. He needed to reach out to another character, and it seemed worthwhile to show that he needs a landline. I know, I'm yawning already.

But I followed my golden rule:

Nothing, nothing without conflict.

My hero went in to the bar where he's working. I put the relief tender (ten words in a previous chapter) behind the bar, still on from the night before because the morning guy never showed. The low-key stoner stuck on a double shift wanted the hero to clock in. The hero wanted to use the phone and get the hell out.

The character he was calling saw the work number on her cell. She's pretending to be sick to keep from covering that shift too. I got a nice bit of three-way conflict out of that one phone call.

Somehow, I doubt that call will end up in the final draft. But I did learn a couple things about my characters by watching them handle this situation, and writing it got me through to the next scene. I also got to add in the extra layer of tension when the relief tender mentions that the cops are asking about what happened behind the bar last night...

Now, the hero and his coworker are having lunch. They've got conflict on several levels:

Overt: She has information he wants. She doesn't want to give it to him.

Covert: She's making like she has his best interests at heart. He's not sure he trusts her.

And deeper: She wants something bigger from him, and it makes him wary. I'm not even sure that she's being honest about what she wants.

And further: There's a three way love triangle going on as well. That way, just the fact of these two being alone together is a move against the woman who isn't there. And the two women hate, hate, HATE each other, for reasons I can only suspect.

One thing about this story: my characters aren't telling me much. My heroes usually don't. Male or female, I gravitate to quiet, tough characters who don't see a lot of point talking about their pasts. They're action-oriented for a reason, and that's as it should be.

This time though, everyone around the hero is dodgy. They tell me their motivations, and I don't believe them. Where the hero just isn't talking, these people are actively hiding and lying.

Just like the eventual readers, I have to look at what they're doing to see them with any honesty at all. It's maddening, intriguing, and kind of fun!

In other news, Butler Dynamo continues to help. Here he can be seen turning his hand to literary criticism...

I thought the book was more interesting than that!


Charles Gramlich said...

It's always interesting when the characters start lying. I wish I had your patience to let them work it out for me on paper but usually I'm in an anxious state while I try to figure out what his truth and what is not. It's that damn free will thing.

cs harris said...

Ah, yes; conflict. Sounds like you've got tons built in. I've noticed when I start feeling uncomfortable about a scene it's because I've forgotten the need for conflict.

Susan Miller said...

I'm slowly writing this piece right now...piece? who knows...I'm scared to call it anything else.

But anyway when I am away from it and at work or driving I think of the way your characters lead you and I want that.

Then I start laughing because I can just see them all sitting there on a porch somewhere flipping me off, saying in unison, "You want some conflict? Here's your conflict!"

Thank you for sharing what you do, Steve.

Steve Malley said...

Quite a few of my characters would rather sit around on the porch than, you know, do stuff.

For the story to have legs, those lazy buggers need to be put in positions where they just *can't* get away from the conflict.

Might be another blog entry in that one...

Itsnopicknick said...

Why don't you do a 'silent movie' book, that should solve all those niggly problems...think you'll find that Butler Dynamo agrees with me.

Drizel said...

my gosh how kewl is that,....thanks for the comment on my blog...and how cute is that cat:)