Archive for June 8th, 2011

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Conflict Lock: The Fuel of a Story

Now that you have a grasp on your protagonist and antagonist, let’s get to the heart of the story, which is the conflict between the two.

A novel runs on conflict.  The entire book has a core conflict lock between protagonist and antagonist.  They either want the same thing, which is clear conflict since only one can get it; or they want different things, but in trying to get those things, they come into conflict.  The thing each wants, must be a concrete, external object.  It must be very clear when one or the other gets that thing.

There also must be conflict in every scene.  Thus, each scene has its own conflict lock.  The protagonist and antagonist of each scene does not necessarily have to be the book’s protagonist and antagonist.

What exactly is Conflict?

A serious disagreement or argument.  A prolonged armed struggle.  An incompatibility between two opinions, principles or interests. As a verb it means to be incompatible or at variance, clash.

Try to have conflict at two levels in every scene.  What this means if your cops are chasing the bad guys (conflict), they are also arguing with each other (conflict layered on top of conflict).

Your Basic Story Dynamic:

The Protagonist (the character who owns the story) struggles with . . .The Antagonist (the character who if removed will cause the conflict and story to collapse) because both must achieve their concrete, specific . . .Goals (the external, concrete things they are each trying desperately to get, not necessarily the same thing).

The Central Story Question:

Will the protagonist defeat the antagonist and achieve her goal?

When the reader asks that question, the story begins.

When the reader gets the answer, the story is over.

DON’T LOOK DOWN:  Will Lucy defeat Nash and save herself and her family?

AGNES AND THE HITMAN:  Will Agnes defeat Brenda and keep Two Rivers?

This question leads us to the . . .

The Conflict Box: A way of diagraming your protagonist, antagonist, goals, and conflict.

You can either have conflict because:

Protagonist and antagonist want the same thing.

Protagonist and antagonist want different things, but achieving one goal causes conflict with the other’s goal.

To diagram a conflict box draw a large square.  Then draw a line down the middle and across the middle, leaving your with four boxes

On the left, label the top two: Protagonist.  The bottom two:  Antagonist.

On the top, label the left two:  Goal.  The right two:  Conflict

Then fill in each box.  For conflict, you put whatever is causing the character conflict in achieving their goal.

Conflict Box

A core conflict based on goals that brings the protagonist and antagonist into direct opposition in a struggle that neither can walk away from.

Conflict Box:  Same Goal: Agnes wants to keep her house, which she bought from Brenda.

Brenda wants to steal back the house she just sold to Agnes

Conflict Box:  Same Goal, Agnes and the Hitman: To see if your conflict is inescapable:  Draw a line from Agnes’ goal to Brenda’s Conflict.  If Agnes is causing Brenda’s conflict, you’re halfway there.

Then draw a line from Brenda’s goal to Agnes’ conflict.  If Brenda is causing Agnes’ conflict, you have a conflict lock.

Conflict Box:   Different Goals, Chasing The Ghost: Gant wants to find out who is kidnapping and killing young girls.

The Sniper wants to kidnap and kill young girls.

The key is the lines must cross.  Each character must be causing the other character’s conflict in order to have a conflict lock.

If you don’t have it, you don’t have a story.