Using Literary Conflicts By Ada Brownell

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A writing teacher asked her students, “What would your leading character do if caught in a snowstorm?”

Since we’ve spent much of the winter in the deep freeze like buried broccoli, we should have some idea about the misery a character might have. Les and I spent part of a recent morning shoveling about eight inches of snow off the driveway. Since the snow was fluffy, I used a push broom to take off the top four inches or so, and then followed with the snow shovel. We scooped a path to the mailbox and cleared half the two-car drive.

Now if it would have been wet snow, I’d have made a snowball, rolled it down the driveway as if making a snowman, and roll the big ball to the side next to the street. Then I’d make snowballs until the driveway was clear—or Les shoveled the remainder.

When we’re out in the weather, we understand how dangerous it can be. Years ago I was taught fiction follows certain literary conflicts. On the list were Man vs. Himself; Man vs. man (often a villain). I think Man vs. Evil also was included. Now I see Man vs. Society is added, and always Man vs. Nature.

You can write a suspenseful story by putting your character in the middle of a storm, an earthquake, a tornado. Each literary conflict category has endless possibilities.

Another possible conflict listed on the internet was man against machine. To me, that’s the foundation for humor, perhaps because I’m mechanically challenged or because I’ve seen numerous episodes of trouble when a character starts up a blender. I’ve also seen some hilarious comedy featuring someone trying to learn to drive a car, for instance someone who hasn’t driven anything but a horse and buggy.

I was intrigued by students who responded to the writing challenge and dropped their characters into a blizzard. One found a cabin. He had a lighter, but it didn’t work. Another found a cave, but a bear was in it. There were various complications like that. Writing experts say to put your character in the worst possible situation. It’s up to us to figure out how to get him out of the fix we put him into.

The teacher also asked, “What person would your character not want to be with while trying to survive a blizzard?”

I’m sure my characters would choose to be with a person who has survival skills, whether or not they like or fear him.

These are just a few things to get your mind working. Winter is a good time to create. Great stories begin with the first word; the first paragraph. The writer who wants to do more than dream will soon arrive at “The End.”


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