Monday, August 6, 2007

Conflict, Dilemma and Choice Oh My

Conflict part deux. So last month we talked about how to create conflict with the gap, and someone asked me if this was just away to setup obstacles (external conflict) to which I said …no. Internal conflict can be created through the gap as well as long as it forces the character to make a choice.

External conflicts deal with fixing something or overcoming something outside ourselves. Internal conflict is all about choice. And not just choice but a choice that insists we must give something up in its resolution.. Internal conflict is DILEMMA. And come in only two flavors. Choose between mutually exclusive goods or Choose between the lesser of two evils.

Now I point this out because it’s ├╝ber important. Dilemmas are agony, angst inducing, shortcuts to people’s emotions. Read a great way to involve your reader. And while it seems like common sense, I don’t think it’s always obvious. People hate it when they don’t know what to do or when they have to give something up or when they must choose between to options that absolutely SUCK eggs.

Wait, wait, wait. I hear you cry. What about choosing between right and wrong, good and evil? Well, you choose right and good, don’t you? What kind of dilemma is that? None. It’s not question of dilemma at all; so for our storytelling purposes we’re going to ignore that option. The reader knows that the character is always going to choose the “right” or “good” from their own inner compass. “Imagine Atilla, King of the Huns, poised on the borders of fifth century Europe, surveying his hordes and asking himself: ‘Should I invade, murder, rape, plunder and lay waste…or should I just go home?’ ”

Samples. I use popular movies for examples because most of us have seen these movies. Not all of us have read the same books. Okay one book, just cause it’s one of my faves.

Shrek: He must choose either protect his heart after a lifetime of rejection by everyone he’s ever met or risk that pain again and tell Princess Fiona he loves her and wants her to be with him, after being very nasty to her. Two mutually exclusive goods.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Claire must choose between either staying in the past with the man she’s grown to love or going back to the future to her husband who she loves but does not know well. Two mutually exclusive goods.

Men In Black: J must choose between giving up his entire identity or working for an unheard of top secret enclave that would be very exciting and fulfilling. Two mutually exclusive goods.

Serenity (If you haven’t seen it, you should): Mal must choose between being hunted down and killed or traveling through cannibal territory to look for something that may not even exist but might save his ass. The lesser of two evils.

Alien: Ripley must choose between holding her wounded friend and shipmate in quarantine or letting him into the ship for medical treatment and risk the entire crew to exposure to a dangerous element.

Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest: Elizabeth Swan chooses between trapping Jack on the Pearl for the Kracken to eat or everybody dying in the attack. The lesser of two evils.

So tell me what dilemma does your Character’s face. What do you make them risk?

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