Writing Tips; Rule 6
All stories are based on characters that are caught in conflict. So which comes first the character or the conflict? That’s akin to saying which comes first the melody or the words.
At times a writer has an idea or concept they feel needs to be developed into a story and a character has to be found to facilitate it. And there are times a writer comes across a character and has to find a conflict or story to fit him. And sometimes it happens all at once.
A writer once said his first paragraph was always about the character. That’s not a rule, that’s just his way of doing it. James Michener goes through pages of description before settling on characters. That’s his way.
What ever way a writer chooses the character and their dialogue is what carries the story.
A course I took encouraged writing students to think of a person; name them, define them physically, and define the type of person they are.
Next, from what you now know about that person, write down what they need or want. It must be something they need or want badly. It’s not a character who gets in his car and goes and gets it. That’s not interesting or compelling.
So arrange something in the way of a character that prevents them from possessing what is wanted. Ideally it is another character. Now, describe that other character in the same way you described the first.
We now have a character with a need or want, and somebody or thing in his way - conflict. Characters and conflict; that’s it.
Depending on how many words that is to be devoted to the story there may be subplots and additional characters, but the basic formula stays the same.
Formula: Character (protagonists), Want (conflict) Character (antagonist) Resolution
Everyday we all come across people who would make compelling characters. As the writer peels back the layers with imagination and creativity they discover the story that must be told.
For over six months I became a part of a writing prompt challenge. Many of the challenges were developed into short stories. As an additional challenge to myself only an hour was devoted to writing and once through it for the edit.
It is a good exercise. It is like speed chess. The theory is that one can learn by playing many rapid games as opposed to one long thoughtful game. For a writer it is essential - that’s my opinion only.
Here is one of my responses to the writing prompt:
Daily Prompt: Talking in Your Sleep
Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation you weren’t supposed to? Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?
Here is a work of fiction based upon a real conversation between a union president and the owner of a company during labor contract negotiations.
I hope you enjoy the brief exchange.
Negotiations were going nowhere. Jimmy, the union president, met privately with Dwayne, the company’s founder and CEO. They sat stoic in Dwayne’s office.
“Listen, Dwayne,” Jimmy said. “We got to compromise if this contact is ever going to get approved. So meet me half way.”
“I’m gonna tell you a little secret, Jimmy,” Dwayne said. “Cause I like you and I want you to see where you and the union stand. I didn’t build this company on compromise. I never compromised when it came to production, expectation, and quality. I set a high and low before I walk into a meeting with anyone. You got my high and that’s it.”
“We’ll walk than,” Jimmy said.
“Than walk,” Dwayne said.
“What about the stockholders?” Jimmy said.
“Don’t care,” Dwayne said. “I’ve made my money. I can get out at anytime.”
“Can you at least see things from my perspective?” Jimmy said.
“Let’s be honest, you can only see things from your own perspective,” Dwayne said. “You will never see my perspective. I can rush across the street to see what you see, but it‘s still my eyes, my brain, and my prejudice.”
“So what is the solution?” Jimmy said.
“It’s all perspective. We meet in the middle of the street,” Dwayne said. “And once you are there with me half the battle is won. Now I can drag you the rest of the way.”
“That’s not perspective,” Jimmy said.
“It sure is! Dwayne said. “From your perspective you’re meeting me half way to shake hands and compromise. From my perspective we’re meeting half way and as for you offering a hand, well that’s like pulling a man about to get hit by a speeding car. Don’t tell me it’s not perspective.”
Jimmy smiled. “I got the feeling you’re even driving the car.”
Yeah,” Dwayne said. “51 Hudson Hornet, straight six, 305, won the Daytona two years in a row, built and looked like a tank.”
Here is something that is interesting about writing prompts; they are seldom about the prompt. The prompt starts a train of thought; you get off at the station closest your home.
Well those are some pointers. It’s not exhaustive or meant to be dogmatic or even authoritative. It’s meant to get you started into a method of developing a story. Just as every writer writes with their own voice; the writer must find their own method of creating a story from the things most people seldom give a second thought.