Monday, September 26, 2005

Emotional Conflict & PLOT!

PLOT ARC - The events that happen while the characters make other plans.
CHARACTER ARC - The emotional roller-coaster that the character suffers while dealing with the Plot.

NO CONFLICT = No Character Depth
I’m sure, most of you have noticed by now that far too many movie characters, and many book characters, are One-Dimensional. The characters DO stuff, but they don’t face any real personal issues: a hang-up, a fear, paranoia, a moral code, a love interest, a strong dislike…

Without hang-ups to deal with, and face down, those characters are not PEOPLE. They’re pretty card-board cutouts moving around on a pretty stage. They're EMPTY.

Or worse – they DO have issues, but those issue are never faced in the story.

The rule of Mystery Fiction states:
“If the gun is shown in Chapter One, it better go off by Chapter Three -- and there had better be a damned good reason for that gun to be there.”

The Rule of Erotic Fiction:
“If the Kiss is shown in Chapter One, the Sex better happen by chapter three -- and there had better be a damned good reason for that Kiss to be there.”

These rules should apply in ANYTHING you put in a story, no matter what it is: a situation, an object, a person... If you have it in the story – you better have a use for it, and that use had better turn the plot.

If your Character has a Hobby, a Pet, a Family, a JOB -- you need to show that character involved with those things, and those things effecting the plot in some way shape or form.

If you DON’T, you’ve just made a PLOT HOLE, and I guarantee that someone will not only See it, they’ll call you on it. It could be a fan who writes you a concerned letter, “Whatever happened with…?” or worse, a Reviewer read by thousands.

That includes a character's PERSONAL Issues.

Adding CONFLICT to your story.

The best way to give your characters greater dimension is to put them in conflict – with EACH OTHER.

Let’s start this lecture with a HUGE secret:

There are Three Essential Characters in Every Story --
  • Adversary – The one causing all the trouble.
  • Proponent – The one trying to keep things the way they are.
  • Ally (Middle-man) – The close companion of one or the other.
Translation: You can tell any story with ONLY these Three Characters; perhaps not with any real detail, but you could still do the entire basic plotline.

-- And each essential character is governed by One of three SPECIFIC aspects, or Drives:
  • MOTIVE - Driven by a REASON to get involved and stir things up, such as Revenge.
  • ACTION - Driven by the need to ACT, usually because they've been pushed into it.
  • EMOTION - Driven by an EMOTIONALLY Impulsive Reaction that makes them leap before they look.
There may be any number of side characters, but in traditional Adventures and Romances of every stripe (erotic or not,) the main conflict is always a triangle of these complimentary opposite drives. Just to make things Truly confusing, the Hero, the Heroine, and the Villain can be any one of them!

Why does this matter?
- To really make your Proponent shine -- the Adversary and the Ally should have Physical and Mental traits that go AGAINST the Proponent’s traits!

In a medieval-style RPG, role-playing game, you will often see a hulking Paladin Knight (an ACTION-driven character,) paired with a slender but highly dexterous Elvish bowman, or knife-throwing Thief, (an EMOTION-Driven character,) and a physically weak but highly intelligent and powerful Mage, (a MOTIVE-Driven character). Each of the three characters possesses traits that overlap to cover most monstrous encounters, and their strong differences in temperament, make for very lively chit-chat in between.

By the way, RPG books on Character Creation are a great way to dig up mental and physical traits for characters!

How this works:

If you have a tough-guy, kick-ass Proponent, like Riddick in Pitch Black, make damned sure that your kick-ass Proponent has a handicap your other characters can take advantage of – such the inability to see in ordinary light.

Make the Plot work AGAINST him by putting him in situations where his handicap can be used against him, (at least twice,) rendering him helpless and in PHYSICAL DANGER - each time.

Don’t forget to force him to expose his emotional soft spota hang-up, a fear, a paranoia, a moral code, a love interest, a strong dislike – at least twice, putting him in EMOTIONAL danger each time.

Use the PLOT against them!
To really torque your Characters, make your Events CONFLICT with one of your characters' physical and / or mental hang-up at least TWICE - each!

A well-placed REVERSAL (where everything that Can go wrong DOES,) throws your characters right into Looming Danger, forcing them off the straight-line path to the goal they’ve chosen and onto a path to a different goal. This is more commonly known as the Plot-Twist.

Making Issues HAPPEN in a Story

My Issue/Plot Template
A Cheat-Sheet for adding Emotional Conflict to the Plot
In the movie: Secretary
The Mirrored Issue: (Opposing reflections of the same issue.) Dealing with Emotional Pain
Her Issue: She uses Physical Pain, she hurts herself, to relieve her Emotional Pain.
His Issue: He uses Physical Pain as a disciplinary tool to relieve his Emotional Pain.


0 – Alarm - Encounter
Boy meets Girl – Mirrored Issues trigger Emotional Conflict
A wonderful typist, but otherwise clueless, girl becomes a secretary for a dominating, but soft-hearted, lawyer.

Inciting Event
1 - Denial - Situation
Response to Emotional Conflict exposes Issues.
Her desire to please her boss drives her to cut her clothing, and later wound herself, as punishment for not pleasing him. Horrified by her “self-punishment” he demands that she stop her self-destructive behavior.

An emotional bond develops between them.

2 - Antagonism - Dilemma
Issues instigate a Dilemma prompting a Fight/Flight response
She goes on a date and is seen by her Lawyer. The lawyer’s emotional conflict (his growing feelings for her,) drives him to begin disciplining her at work, beginning with a spanking for a typing mistake.

The secretary discovers that his spanking brings her an emotional release and a deeper emotional connection to her lawyer. She begins to encourage his discipline by making more mistakes.

3 - Bargaining – Crisis(Worst Case Senario)
Conditional compliance to resolve Dilemma
Despite the fact that his secretary is blooming right before his eyes, the lawyer sees his disciplinary behavior as being destructive. He decides that his behavior is wrong and stops.

4 – Despair - Panic
Disaster strikes bringing Emotional Consequences - Issues Surface
Desperate to get her lawyer to discipline her, and give her the emotional connection she craves, she makes mistake after mistake until finally, she mails him a worm, (he truly hates bugs,) literally mailing him a demand to be punished.

The lawyer cannot resist her demand, she's pushed one button too many to ignore, and discovers that he cannot stop disciplining her, (she won’t let him,) and fires her.

5 - Sacrifice – Breaking Point
Desperation forces confrontation of Issues & Emotional Conflict
Her boyfriend proposes marriage. Out of guilt over HIS feelings for her, and pain at losing her lawyer, she agrees. In her wedding dress, she realizes that she does not love her boyfriend, she loves her lawyer.

6 - Acceptance - Resignation
Acceptance of Issues presents solution to Crisis.
In her wedding dress, she confronts her lawyer. She demands that he love her. He insists that what he’s doing is wrong. She insists that it’s not, that it’s just a different kind of love. They belong together.

He demands that she sit at his desk – with her hands flat on the surface -- until he comes for her. It’s a test. He doesn’t believe that she could possibly love him and figures she'll give up before it goes too far.

0 – Resolution - Conclusion
Emotional Conflict resolved - Relationship secured
She doesn't give up. He's far too important to her. She sits at his desk for days, dealing with family and friends about her personal choices concerning who she loves, and why.

The lawyer has been monitoring her progress the entire time and realizes that she does love him, just as he is and for what he is. He comes for her. Happily ever after – for them.

WHY Issues???
In my opinion, good fiction, no matter the genre, presents us with characters dealing with a basic human issue. This 'Issue' permeates a story and is the story's heart. Every character should face this ONE issue and either succeed or fails when they get there - presenting different results to the core argument (issue) that is the Premise.

A story's Premise = the human ISSUE being addressed

Once upon a time in ancient Greece, the plays of Greek theatre were used as Therapy. The stories were all lessons dealing with the basic drives of human nature - love, hate, jealousy, greed, abandonment... (Ahem - ISSUES.)

The old Greek plays were gut-wrenching for a reason, they were trying to make the viewer FEEL what was happening enough to laugh out loud, scream with rage, or burst into tears, experiencing a therapeutic cathartic release.

This is where the word 'Catharsis' comes from: Greek Theatre.

In modern fiction, when a story's core issue is addressed we feel a release, laughter, anger or tears. If the story does not wrap up the core 'issue', negatively or positively, we feel instinctively cheated - because that sense of relief or release is Missing.

Don't cheat your readers! Make sure to give your story plenty of conflict by giving your characters ISSUES to solve -- a PREMISE.

Morgan Hawke

No comments:

Post a Comment