Last week I had a look at what conflict shouldn’t be. Today, ably assisted by Zeus, I’m contemplating what conflict should not do to your hero or heroine.
Conflict shouldn’t demean them.
The conflict can and should challenge them, change them, because we want our characters to grow with the story, but it shouldn’t paint them as a lesser person. If it does you will have your work cut out getting your readers to empathise with them again.
Now don’t get me wrong, as with all rules of writing there is only one rule – ‘Rules are for fools and the guidance of wisemen.’ That means there are no absolutes in writing. If your story demands your hero chose between two women then you just need to make sure his motivation is believable and he has good reason for dumping Girl A to take up with Girl B. A change of mind over a pretty face is not a strong enough conflict – it’s just plain fickle…
If you ask your heroine to break the law and act dishonourably (Zeus and stealing tennis balls…) then again make sure the motivation is so compelling she has no choice but to break her own moral code and commit a crime. Always retain the integrity of your lead characters.
If you want to mess around inside the head of a psychopathic killer go right ahead, but write that character into your story as the villain or in a secondary role. Then you can walk on the dark side anytime you like and the conflicts can be really angsty…
Something else conflict should not do in romance is demand the highest price. In romance we expect the hero and heroine to survive the conflict and find an optimistic ending. There’s nothing wrong with making them chose between life and death if it’s going to save the heroine, the world or their mum, but actually killing them off might not hit the mark with readers. They can be seriously injured, and that can provide a blackest moment for your story, but don’t let their wounded heart stop completely.
If you’re writing fantasy fiction or even paranormal, you can play with life after death. This means you’re going to have to resurrect your protagonist. That’s fine in your genre. Make sure if you do go down that line that it’s not a gratuitous death, but one that will bring new depth to the character by facing that conflict and paying the ultimate price. Jake Sully, in the movie AVATAR, is a wonderfully conflicted hero who is asked to pay that price. It works in AVATAR because his world, Pandora, has the ability to resurrect life and that is an integral part of the conflict to start with.
If you are feeling like a psychopathic writer then asking secondary characters to pay the ultimate price is a time-honoured method of creating motivation for our heroes and heroines. Be warned though, readers may send you emails and text messages if they don’t approve of your choice of victim…
Later this week I’ll have a look at what conflict should be. I have to say after Anne Gracie‘s workshops last weekend I’ve taken another look at it myself!
Love to hear your thoughts on conflict and what it should not do in the genre you’re writing.