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Bob Nailor




Character Conflict

Every author learns the basics of writing and the flow of how the story will all fit together:

idea+character+plot+conflict+culmination+conclusion=story

Uh… More or less, that's the way it goes.

Of course, we all know how to develop our character. Some authors will outline, others will 'go with the flow' while others will use some other method. No matter how the character is developed, the descriptions used to describe this person will be sure to include all types of aspects including height, weight, eye color, hair color, skills, and yada, yada, yada.

Have you noticed that those stories with the perfect characters are rather boring. The world is not filled with Mrs. Cleaver or Mrs. Brady types — nor is it supplied with a dose of Roy Rogers, Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers.

Truth be told, everyone has a character conflict of some sort.

Jan might be beautiful but she obsesses and worries about being popular.
Indiana Jones is fearless until faced with a snake.
Ty Merrick might be tough but she fears the lycanthropic aspect within her.
Tarzan is a jungle animal king yet yearns for his human roots.
Dr. Jekyll's other side is Mr. Hyde, a darker version of Jekyll.

The character can have faults but the character also needs to have conflict. An inner psychological conflict is the most common aspect to add to the description. Yet, an internal/external conflict can be quite useful. An example would be Jon loves Alice but is engaged to be married to Beth. This can be a subplot within the story line.

Throwing in a handicap or biological defect seems petty but it can also add the conflict or angst necessary to build the story. Consider Elyse Salpeter's YA novel — Flying to the Light — where the young boy is blind deaf * and can "see" the truth of death. That aspect adds to the story and is necessary for the plot to grow and exist. In other words, it isn't an added element to conveniently contrive the story but is a necessary plotline.

Consider Isabelle Holland's The Man Without A Face which involves a recluse, male teacher whose face had been terribly ruined by an fiery auto accident. Not only that, but he has been disgraced with the possibility of being a pedophile and convicted of manslaughter for a young boy's death. Now, toss in a fourteen year-old boy who wants to run away to — of all things — a boarding school. They become friends. Each of them has a conflict which must be addressed.

Could Ms. Holland's novel been as good without the facial damage? No. A blunt answer, but the truth. It is necessary for the teacher to overcome the hardship and once again face the realities of being human and sharing life. This is the conflict that creates the angst and plot for the story. Without it, the novel is just another story about a teacher helping a student learn.

The next time you create a character — take the time to consider what aspects you want to saddle on your character. Remember, the lead hero needn't always be Brad, the beach lifeguard god of perfection … or a heroine who is the epitome of perfection.

* NOTE: My mistake, I originally wrote that Danny was blind. He is deaf, not blind. I apologize for this error!




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~ COMMENTS ~

Lisa M. Collins
2015-01-26
Bob,
The characters that I love the most from literature are the most flawed.Jo March's hot temper, Katniss Everdeen's lack of emotional response, or Hamlet's self doubt...those are the things that bring the characters to life. Those very flaws help me see myself in the stories and also help me to feel what the characters are going through.
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Tamie Dearen
2015-01-26
Good point, Bob. I don't know many people who are without fault. So stories with perfect characters are rather unrealistic. The exception is my husband, who tells me he's perfect. LOL
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Bob Nailor
2015-01-26
Wow. That makes 3 of us. Your husband, my buddy and me. My buddy was told he was vain to think he was perfect and he explained the faulty logic: Vanity is a fault and since he is perfect and has no faults, he can't be vain. Now there's a character conflict to deal with! In my case, like you, my wife just deals with it. She calls it a burden she must bear. Hmmm?
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Tamie Dearen
2015-01-26
I think it's interesting so many men seem to follow this type of faulty logic, placing such a "burden" on the women in their lives. Especially, when in reality, it is the women who are, like Mary Poppins, "practically perfect".
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Charles Dougherty
2015-01-26
Solid advice, as always, Bob. Your points are nicely illustrated, too.
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Elyse Salpeter
2015-01-26
Nice post Bob and thanks for the shoutout!
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