15 Feb 2017

Conflict and Writing

Hello readers!

Alex must firstly apologise for the rather lengthy interlude in which he has not written here on the Magical Realm. You can blame it on his extensive responsibilities: university, his writing commitments in the field of journalism (firstly with Scriptus and now with Red Pers) and of course his work on Fallen Love.

Speaking of which, the topic of today will in no small part be related to Fallen Love. What am I talking about, you ask? I am of course talking about conflict. I intend to answer what conflict in literature is, and why it’s important.

So: onto business.

Defining Conflict

In principle, the definition of conflict ought to be a simple one: it’s when a character’s aims are being frustrated, and they have to engage in a series of actions in order to resolve this. A romantic conflict may involve resolving relationship difficulties; a paranormal conflict may involve coming to terms with supernatural powers; a historical book would likely involve political conflict; a thriller can be about beating the bad guys.

Nevertheless, conflict in a book is not always so straightforward. For one, it varies by genre—as you can already see, some genres tend to employ different kinds of conflict from others. For two, a distinction can be made between internal conflict (such as doubts about a romantic partner) and external conflict, which usually involves more obvious things like ‘catching the serial killer’.

Where it gets especially complicated is when the multiple types of conflict mix and interact. A character may struggle with inner conflict about identity, romantic passion, or his past; while, at the same time, struggling against an external force. Genre crossing is especially prone to this: a book that combines fantasy, mystery and romance will often feature three distinct conflicts, one internal, two external. The former would be sexual feelings; the latter would be uncovering a mystery and fighting off supernatural beings.

Now that we’ve established the ground rules of what conflict is, let us turn our attention to what conflict does.

Conflict in Fiction

Conflict makes stories. To put it simply: without conflict, there would be no plot, and no reason to write (or read!) a book.

This is the reason why I (and many others) dislike the genre sometimes named ‘literary fiction’. Any work of fiction requires an aim: something to which the characters aspire to, something that makes the reader bite their fingernails and anticipate the next page. Aimless literature is pointless literature. I’m not interested in hearing excuses about ‘oh but my characters are so developed’ or ‘but the world is such an interesting exposition into X’ or—my personal favourite—‘but I’m making social commentary!’

No. Developing characters requires putting them through conflict, and convincing conflict at that; it’s what tests their mettle and shows the reader what kind of person they are. World building is just expositional word vomit without plot. And as for social commentary? Please, write an essay.

Anyway, I am digressing. My point is that conflict is the essential part of a story—it makes plot, it develops characters, it breathes life into unfamiliar worlds.

Conflict in Fallen Love

So far I have written a general account of what conflict is and what purpose it serves. But now, I wish to address the question that is most pertinent to me: conflict specifically in Fallen Love.

You may have inferred that I am of the opinion that conflicts needs to be powerful; it needs to reach into the reader’s heart, and speak to their soul. To that end, Fallen Love has several avenues of conflict. There’s the romance—a Fallen and an Upperclassman, an unlikely and forbidden union. There’s the Party: a malevolent power, its eyes seeing all and its arm as long as the country is wide. And finally, there’s the supernatural powers; the darkness within Casey, the force that animatest the mutants, and the source of Kaylin’s magic.

The trouble is, you see, having multiple avenues of plot also involves multiple avenues of difficulty. Romance is especially tricky: it’s meant to be gentle, and passionate, but also fraught and problematic. The Party is meant to be evil, but rational. And as for the supernatural, well—they have their own agenda.

Striking a balance is no easy task. The book needs to be edgy and dark; but it must also have love and devotion. The light, and the dark.

Anyway, leave yours truly to battle his demons. The Magical Realm will see some more politics next...

Until then!

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