Friday, November 9, 2007
This is a picture of my husband standing in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 2004. Certainly not filled with conflict on our visit, but very few people (who are old enough anyway) have forgotten what happened in that place in 1989.
To me, the Tiananmen Square Massacre was an external conflict directly resulting from internal conflict.
It's very clear what the external conflict was in 1989. Threat of death will do it every time. But what about the guy who stood up in front of all of those guns and tanks? Do you think he didn't have any internal conflict going on? Zowie. He had to have struggled (at least a little human-bit) between staying safe and doing what he knew in his heart was the right thing. Could there be any greater internal conflict?
Every novelist needs to make sure there's struggle. Otherwise, what reader will be interested?
There's an old writer's adage of picturing the gorilla in the phone booth to understand the idea of conflict. I would add to that. The gorilla in the phone booth is supposed to be picking up his daughter from daycare at that very moment, and his wife doesn't respect him anymore because he did "x", and he's not sure he's got the moxy to fix it.
We were in Russia a few years before we went to China. The people of Russia are amazing, and both their internal and external struggles are easy to figure out, at least superficially. Make sure your conflict can, at some point, be easily understood by your reader. Make sure it matters to them, and that they can identify on some level.
What are the internal and external conflicts in the story you're writing? The one you're reading? Thinking about these things can only add depth to the experience to both you as the writer, and the person you're engaged to entertain.
Just remember . . . if you're writing a story, until you put the words to the paper, the conflict doesn't exist.
It's all better with friends.