Finding Conflict

Without conflict there is no story.

Both new and seasoned writers hear this at the beginning of many a writing workshop. A story where everyone gets along is no story, but merely a sequence of words. It may be a painstakingly crafted sequence but it’s unlikely to engage and propel a reader forward.

In From Roots to Snowflakes I touched on Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method and shared how I applied it to my current work in progress.

His is a 10 step process. I got stuck on Step 2, which is:

Take another hour and expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel.

I came up with . . .

With her 30th birthday and her baby sister’s wedding just one week away, Dulcie Brannam’s best friend arrives on her doorstep holding hands with the boyfriend they traded back and forth in high school.

. . . and that’s it.

Why did I get stuck?

I couldn’t find my conflict. 🙁 According to Randy, I needed to find three major conflicts.

Where is My Conflict?

The answer is quite simple, I realized. Relationships. Conflict is found within relationships.

Relationship with self. Relationship with God. Relationship with environment. Relationship with others.

When crafting a story, I find my conflict by getting to know my characters first, and second by throwing my characters into different situations and watching how they react. Another way to put it: I think about how my characters might react to different plot events given their temperaments.

How do I discover my characters’ temperaments?

I can tell you what I don’t do. I don’t reinvent the wheel. I’m not a psychologist, but luckily many smart and observant people are. Many of these smart and observant people have devised various ways of categorizing personalities and defining the traits within those categories.

Yes, I know, we are all unique. But there’s nothing new under the sun. There are no new stories, and there are no new personalities. The same old personalities keep getting in the same old messes which become the same old stories (told in your unique literary voice).

I’ll make a long story short.

Here’s what I did. I went to the official Myers & Briggs Foundation website, printed out the basic description of each personality type.

Next I looked at each of my characters and determined which personality type fit them best. Once I’d determined their type, I used the type’s keywords to jumpstart my creativity.

For instance:

Brenda is an ESTJ. According to Myers Briggs these types of folks are:

Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organize projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want others to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.

Here’s my resulting character sketch of Brenda, my main character’s mother.

As a housewife/homemaker she kept the house spotless. Had kids on a chore chart by age 3. Entire house (all surfaces) had to be dusted and/or disinfected once a week.

She does all the cleaning herself now. Won’t hire a maid despite daughter’s nagging (and despite slipped disc which occurred when she tried to move the TV cabinet to the other side of the room).

Has a chart for her daughter’s wedding planning plus a timeline with everything written out to the day when it should be done. Calls people the day before their item is supposed to be done to remind them.

In charge of special events at church.

Has a weekly game night with her church friends. She always hosts.

How’d I do?

It’s kind of a fun game, and it’s nice to have a reference point to start from when trying to create realistic characters. (Beats banging your head against the wall…)

I don’t think I’ve found my conflict yet, though. Well, it’s coming. I see hints of it anyway. Don’t you?