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Old 07-30-2005, 11:56 AM   #1
McKenna
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Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #9

Don't Duck Trouble

(If you can't duck it, I wonder if you can goose it?*)



In fiction, the best times for the writer -and reader- are when the story's main character is in the worst trouble. Let your characters relax, feel happy and content, and be worried about nothing, and your story dies. Pour on all sorts of woes so your poor character is thoroughly miserable and in the deepest kind of trouble, and your story perks right up -along with your reader's interest.

The moral: Although most of us do everything we can to avoid trouble in real life, we must seek out ways to add trouble to our character's lives, putting just as much pressure on them as we can. For it's from plot trouble that reader interest comes.

There are many kinds of fiction trouble, but the most effective kind is conflict.

You know what conflict is: It's active give-and-take, a struggle between story people with opposing goals.

It is not, please note, bad luck or adversity. It isn't fate. It's a fight of some kind between people with opposing goals.

Fate, bad luck or whatever you choose to call it may play a part in your fiction too. Adversity -that snowstorm that keeps your character from having an easy drive to the mountain cabin, for example, or the suspicious nature of townspeople that complicates your detective's investigation -is nice, too. But those problems are blind; they are forces of some kind that operate willy-nilly, without much reason -and so are things that your character can't confront and grapple with.

In other words, it's all well and good to have your character leave his house in the morning and slip and fall on a banana peel, thus making him feel bad all day. But such an event comes out of nowhere for no good reason; like real-life events, it makes no sense. It is caused by nothing much and leads to nothing special.

Adversity in all its forms may create some sympathy for your character. But your character can't reasonably try to understand it, plot against it, or even confront it in a dramatic way.

Conflict, on the other hand, is a fight with another person. It's dramatic, onstage now, with the kind of seesaw give-and-take that makes most sporting events -and many coutroom trials- exciting stuff. When in conflict, your character knows who the opponent is and has a chance to struggle against him. In conflict, your character has a chance to change the course of events. In taking the challenge and entering the fray, your character proves himself to be worthy as a story hero: he's trying to take charge of his life ...determine the outcome ... win.

The calmer and more peaceful your real life, the better, in all likelihood. Your story person's life is just the opposite. You, the writer, must never duck trouble -conflict- in the story. You seek it out, because that's where the excitement and involvement -as well as reader sympathy for your character- lie.




* This commentary is McKenna's, not the author's.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #1

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #2

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #3

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #4

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #5

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #6

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #7

Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, #8
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Old 07-30-2005, 12:35 PM   #2
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Prepare yourselves.

I agree with this one.

What he didn't point out is that the conflict can often be internal. It doesn't have to be between two people, but between the drives within a central character. I've dealt with this several times, to good effect in my opinion.

And I think he understates adversity. One of my best stories has to deal with the central character's lover being in a coma and how she dealt with it. The coma was fate, her reactions and emotions were not.

Of course, there isn't going to be much conflict in a short piece of smut. Hopefully a lot of action though.

Good one, McKenna.
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Old 07-30-2005, 12:40 PM   #3
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this one seems prety self evident. lthough in a certain kind of character, my runner Jack nelson for instance, staying cool in adversity is part of what makes him who he is.
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Old 07-30-2005, 12:44 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colleen Thomas
this one seems prety self evident. lthough in a certain kind of character, my runner Jack nelson for instance, staying cool in adversity is part of what makes him who he is.

Yeah, I agree. This chapter just seems so obvious to me (the information within, I mean). I wondered why he bothered to include it at all.
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Old 07-30-2005, 12:47 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rgraham666
Prepare yourselves.

I agree with this one.

What he didn't point out is that the conflict can often be internal. It doesn't have to be between two people, but between the drives within a central character. I've dealt with this several times, to good effect in my opinion.

And I think he understates adversity. One of my best stories has to deal with the central character's lover being in a coma and how she dealt with it. The coma was fate, her reactions and emotions were not.

Of course, there isn't going to be much conflict in a short piece of smut. Hopefully a lot of action though.

Good one, McKenna.
Yeah. Fiction is friction. It's hard to disagree with this one.

On the other hand, porn is one of the few types of fiction that can get by without any obvious conflict. That's because in porn, description can be enough to titllate a reader and keep them reading. In that regard, porn is something like travel writing: all description.

Even so, I find most stories of loving, sharing sex to be dull just because there isn't any obvious conflict. I'd rather see someone pushed beyond their limits or forced to change somehow.
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Old 07-30-2005, 12:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by McKenna
Yeah, I agree. This chapter just seems so obvious to me (the information within, I mean). I wondered why he bothered to include it at all.

I think it's aimed at writers who have the "too cool" cprotag. the guy who never gets ruffled and handles everything with aplomb. I've seen it a lot in cyberpunk. A new writer who dosen't seem to realize the best characters are the most fatally flawed.
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Old 07-30-2005, 12:58 PM   #7
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Genenrally I agree too, but I think the value of variation is underestimated. You need your dramatic episodes, as well as your happy happy joy joy parts. The usual progression curve in most storytelling, from Shakespeare to Spielberg goes something like this rudimentary chart:

X = low excitement
XXXXXXX = extreme excitement


Introduction to hero and happy life
X
Intruduction of hero's problem to fight
XXX
Hero stars fighting the problem
XX
It seems to go well
X
But suddenly, the problem turns out to be bigger than we thought!
XXXX
Hero fights a little harder and seemingly defeats the problem.
XXX
Hero gets to rest and celebrate.
X
Only to discover that the problem is bigger and badder than ever
XXXXX
Now, everything is going to hell in a handbasket
XXXXXX
Hero have lost everything and appears to give up
X
But oh no...
XX
Time to kick ass, against all impossible odds, Hero style!
XXXXX
Final massive no breaks showdown, woohoo!!!
XXXXXXX
Hero has won, and everyone lives happily ever after.
X

(chart courtsey of my creative writings teacher)


What I'm trying to say is that without the lows, the highs would just get tiring. Sometimes the protagonist needs to have a relaxed time. The more fun then when he is yanked out into adventure again.
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Old 07-30-2005, 01:17 PM   #8
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Oi, erise!

Warn me next time. I'll make sure I take something for motion sickness.
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Rob is deep, thoughtful and so very empathetic. He too can take the load of a bad day off. - Colleen Thomas. I treasure these words even more now. Goodbye Colleen.

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Old 07-30-2005, 03:28 PM   #9
McKenna
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erise
X = low excitement
XXXXXXX = extreme excitement


Introduction to hero and happy life
X
Intruduction of hero's problem to fight
XXX
Hero stars fighting the problem
XX
It seems to go well
X
But suddenly, the problem turns out to be bigger than we thought!
XXXX
Hero fights a little harder and seemingly defeats the problem.
XXX
Hero gets to rest and celebrate.
X
Only to discover that the problem is bigger and badder than ever
XXXXX
Now, everything is going to hell in a handbasket
XXXXXX
Hero have lost everything and appears to give up
X
But oh no...
XX
Time to kick ass, against all impossible odds, Hero style!
XXXXX
Final massive no breaks showdown, woohoo!!!
XXXXXXX
Hero has won, and everyone lives happily ever after.
X

(chart courtsey of my creative writings teacher)

This is absolutely fabulous!



Thanks for sharing!
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Old 07-31-2005, 12:28 AM   #10
dizzylia
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erise
Genenrally I agree too, but I think the value of variation is underestimated. You need your dramatic episodes, as well as your happy happy joy joy parts. The usual progression curve in most storytelling, from Shakespeare to Spielberg goes something like this rudimentary chart:

X = low excitement
XXXXXXX = extreme excitement

[...]
That was very cool. Thank you for sharing.

So I guess we left the tiptoeing through the tulips when we left childhood?
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Old 07-31-2005, 01:48 AM   #11
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This is very good advice.

I've been surprised to find the best critiques here, in an erotica site. I was cruising a non-erotic literary site the other day, and the critiques ran something like this: "that sucks." I guess, at least in erotica, if it sucks, then something has been accomplished.

At any rate, I've submitted my first story, but it hasn't been approved yet. It should appear in the "Romance" section soon -- hopefully -- and I tried to introduce some good conflict in it. I'll post a link when I have it, and I hope you'll go take a look and tell me what you think.
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Old 07-31-2005, 09:46 PM   #12
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~bumping to the top one more time~
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Old 07-31-2005, 09:53 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dr_mabeuse
Yeah. Fiction is friction. It's hard to disagree with this one.

On the other hand, porn is one of the few types of fiction that can get by without any obvious conflict. That's because in porn, description can be enough to titllate a reader and keep them reading. In that regard, porn is something like travel writing: all description.

Even so, I find most stories of loving, sharing sex to be dull just because there isn't any obvious conflict. I'd rather see someone pushed beyond their limits or forced to change somehow.
I agree Doc, Fiction is Friction, but so is smut
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Old 08-03-2005, 01:45 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dr_mabeuse
Yeah. Fiction is friction. It's hard to disagree with this one.

On the other hand, porn is one of the few types of fiction that can get by without any obvious conflict. That's because in porn, description can be enough to titllate a reader and keep them reading. In that regard, porn is something like travel writing: all description.

Even so, I find most stories of loving, sharing sex to be dull just because there isn't any obvious conflict. I'd rather see someone pushed beyond their limits or forced to change somehow.
I don't think you can write a good story in any genre without conflict. Yes, there may be a certain amount of titillation value in pure description, but it's still a better story if there's more to it than boy meets girl, boy propositions girl, she agrees and they fuck to mutual satisfaction.

Tension in an erotic tale is built by wondering if the folks you want to get together are actually going to get together in the way you want them to. In darker tales there's the element of danger or consent, but even in strictly vanilla tales the flirtation is what builds the tension, the seduction, the dance.

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Old 08-30-2009, 10:31 AM   #15
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*bump*
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Old 08-30-2009, 11:25 AM   #16
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Dont overdo the conflicts and shit or you risk defeating the protagonist and reader. Load them up and back it off a notch.

I read an old Raymond Chandler story last night. Phillip Marlowe is broke, a mobster offers him 5K to get him out of LA alive, his sweetie wants sex and PM doesnt have time to oblige her, shooters are prowling for the mobster, two shooters come after PM becuz the mob hates him, and the mobster who hired him is luring PM into a trap. Thats a lot of balls in the air.
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Old 08-30-2009, 12:14 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rgraham666 View Post
Prepare yourselves.

I agree with this one.

What he didn't point out is that the conflict can often be internal. It doesn't have to be between two people, but between the drives within a central character. I've dealt with this several times, to good effect in my opinion.

And I think he understates adversity. One of my best stories has to deal with the central character's lover being in a coma and how she dealt with it. The coma was fate, her reactions and emotions were not.

Of course, there isn't going to be much conflict in a short piece of smut. Hopefully a lot of action though.

Good one, McKenna.
I tend to consider certain types of adversity as conflict; the conflict of a story doesn't have to be specifically between people. I have a story where my two main characters are in love, but they serve in militaries from two different countries, albeit allies, during wartime. The war constantly pulls them apart and then throws them back together and you see how they deal with seeing and being put through very different situations when apart, and how they change so that when they're together they aren't sure how to tread, and fear being pulled apart again.

McKenna, in my story the two lovers and all their comrades have the same goals, work towards the same ideals, and what they're fighting against isn't actually their enemy, but rather the war itself. In Rob's story, his character is dealing with and possibly fighting against all the thoughts and emotions and situations that come with having a lover in a coma. Both of these plots contain secondary conflicts between characters but they *further* the plot, they aren't necessarily *central* to the plot (Rob I'm making assumptions about your story here, feel free to tell me I'm wrong if I am ).
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Old 08-30-2009, 09:23 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Katyusha View Post
I tend to consider certain types of adversity as conflict; the conflict of a story doesn't have to be specifically between people. I have a story where my two main characters are in love, but they serve in militaries from two different countries, albeit allies, during wartime. The war constantly pulls them apart and then throws them back together and you see how they deal with seeing and being put through very different situations when apart, and how they change so that when they're together they aren't sure how to tread, and fear being pulled apart again.

McKenna, in my story the two lovers and all their comrades have the same goals, work towards the same ideals, and what they're fighting against isn't actually their enemy, but rather the war itself. In Rob's story, his character is dealing with and possibly fighting against all the thoughts and emotions and situations that come with having a lover in a coma. Both of these plots contain secondary conflicts between characters but they *further* the plot, they aren't necessarily *central* to the plot (Rob I'm making assumptions about your story here, feel free to tell me I'm wrong if I am ).
This sounds like a story I want to read!!

I guess everyone agrees with this. The rub comes in having the imagination to make an interesting rollercoaster ride of a story!
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