Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Conflict vs. Tension or Conflict & Tension

It's almost like the chicken and the egg.  Which comes first?  DOES one come first? 

Aren't they pretty much the same actually? Conflict/Tension? The terms seem to be used the same way and they can actually be synonymous, but...

Um, no.  Conflict is when a character makes his or her presence known in a scene with a goal and is immediately confronted by an obstacle.  That's great and it's necessary to hold the reader's interest.  We all confront obstacles in our lives, we all need to understand how to face them, to overcome them.  The reader can identify.

Okay, got that? 

Now, tension is what evokes emotion in your reader.  You know, that hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck and the squirmy feeling in your stomach and the jittery, gotta-do-something feeling.  That's the kind of stuff you want to make your reader feel. Those are the kinds of things that gets your readers involved with your story and will keep them reading until the end...and then want to pick up another book you've written.

So, Conflict and Tension have a sort of symbiotic relationship. Conflict should create tension, but unfortunately it doesn't always.

That in mind, how do we writers ratchet up the tension?  What's the  magic formula?

Well, I wouldn't call it magic and I sure wouldn't call it a formula, but here it is.  Make your stakes high.  Give your reader something to relate to, a struggle everyone can relate to and make sure you offer a clear conflict. 

The more the writer digs down to the primal roots like the struggle to just stay alive, love, revenge, fighting hunger, lust.  Make one or some combination of these the basis of your conflict and it'll be much easier to jack up that tension and keep your readers interested because it's something they can relate to in their own life. It's human

Conflict can be huge and in your face like a car chase, a martial arts battle or it can be a much more low key event like a clear break between two people with opposing desires. Whatever way you play it, make sure the conflict is there.  If it isn't, rewrite, rewrite!

Oh, and with all this conflict and tension, pay attention to your characters.  Are their responses clear and emotional in themselves?  You need to know your characters inside-out.  How they would respond.  What would bring on the volcanic emotional eruption you need to keep your story snapping.  

After all, if your character's response is unemotional, without vinegar, then why should your reader care? If there is a big event occuring, then your character should have a big reaction. Almost killed in a car crash?  Don't have your characer walk away with a shrug. Just lost the talent contest that he/she'd prepared for for a year or more? - not very ho-hum.  Match response with event. Dig deep for your own emotions, then understand how the character you've created would react and get it down on paper.


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