Thursday, March 10, 2011

Binary Forces

They're easier to see in movies and fairy tales. Snow White versus her evil stepmother. Farmer versus town who thinks he's crazy to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield. Dorothy versus the Wicked Witch of the West. Wrongly accused man versus the crooked warden.

But even in the movies, you can boil them down to conflict types. Good versus evil, of course, a classic. Along the same vein: light versus darkness. Justice versus injustice. Man (or woman) versus the natural world. True love versus obligation or tradition. Faith versus disbelief.

Look at the story you've been working on. What are the binary forces at work here? In one of my favorite stories, Lorrie Moore's "Which is More Than I Can Say about Most People," there is mother versus daughter tension, which is a symptom of the larger conflict in the story: fear of speaking versus being compelled to speak. Which you can boil down to the most basic conflict in any story: self versus self.

In just about any story, I think, the conflict is two-fold: interpersonal--person versus person--which almost always echoes the story's most graceful, most intriguing, most heartbreaking, and often, the most convincing thing about the whole story: the intra-personal conflict.

How is your character at odds with himself?


Steve Finnell said...
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Tracy Crow said...

Hey, Susan -- Of the four basic types of conflict, the interpersonal one is my favorite to explore with my characters. Love this post!

Susan Woodring said...

Thanks, Tracy!