Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Characters: Conflict Escalation and Resolution

Character Series
Part 08: Conflict Escalation and Resolution 

Higher and Higher

Stakes and conflicts need to raise through your story. Whatever problem and stakes you start with, need to get worse and worse, more and more desperate. And you should have a good idea of how this is going to happen before you begin writing.

One of the ways it will rise is your character’s own emotional investment. It’s the core of romances, the stakes raise as the characters fall more and more in love with each other, their emotional investment rises. Likewise, if your hero is a gruff, uncaring, world-weary cowboy, he will undoubtedly meet someone weaker and more vulnerable that he will protect, grudgingly at first, but who will then become a driving motivation as the story progresses.

Another typical way for the stakes it rise is that on your characters first (then often second and even third) effort to solve their problems, they fail. A character who always effortlessly succeeds is boring. No one can empathise with a flawless character, because none of us are flawless. Seeing their failure, their reaction to it, the way they fight to keep going, or maybe give up for a time, allows us to see who they are. And the higher their highs and the lower their lows, the more of them we see.

A character who has no emotional investment, or who doesn’t react to things, internally or externally, is not interesting to a reader. However if a reader can feel with the character, empathise as completely as you can manage, then they will remember that story and want to share it with everyone else.

Conflict Resolution

You have to resolve all the conflicts in your story in a way that will satisfy the reader. That is not to say they have to be happy endings, or the ending that the reader wants, but they do have to be resolved. EG: Let’s say in the middle of the book, the main character has to abandon his  beloved dog on the roof of a house in flood waters. He promises to go back for her. She’s barking as he paddles away and he orders her to stay with tears rolling down her face.

At some point in the book, even if it is toward the very end, you have to resolve that conflict. Maybe the dog is rescued by someone else, maybe he goes back for it, maybe he sees fly over footage of the site and sees the dog is dead. However the reader needs to know what happened to it, one way or another.

Loose ends leave readers feeling uncomfortable. If people are uncomfortable, if they leave your book feeling unsatisfied, they won’t come back and read your next book. So if you are leaving things unresolved, only do so if you have a really good reason, if that is your intention that readers feel that way.

Ultimately, you want to resolve your novel in a way that leaves them with a strong emotion—you decide what that emotion is, as the writer, but you want it to be intense. You want it to have as much impact as you can possibly deliver. With happy endings, you may then end with a mellower scene, something short to show everything has calmed down, or that adventures are ongoing, or that everything is back to normal, but this palette cleanser can’t be too long. It’s a reassurance—don’t let it drag on so long that it weakens your final emotional impact.

NEXT WEEK - Part  9. Characters: Heroes.

The previous parts of the character development blog series can be found here:

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