Conflicting Characters Sell Stories

Conflicting characters: A performance of Ghosts in Berlin, 1983, with Inge Keller, Ulrich Mühe, and Simone von Zglinicki.
A study in conflicting characters: A performance of Ghosts in Berlin, 1983, with Inge Keller, Ulrich Mühe, and Simone von Zglinicki.

The noted teacher and dramatist, Lagos Egri, provides some sage advice of how conflicting characters help sell your story.

Remembering that stories need to hold our interest from the get-go, he suggests we start at a crisis point—the turning point in our protagonist’s life.

In Ghosts, by Ibsen, for example, the basic idea is heredity. The play grew out of a Biblical quotation which formed the premise: “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children.” Every action, every bit of dialogue, every conflict in the play, arises out of this premise.

Egri states that the correct way to start a story is to involve your main character in conflict. Conflicting characters not only drive the story forward, but they reveal their true selves in the shortest possible time.

Forcing conflicting characters together is the best way of exposing them to a reader or audience. Opposing characters should be militant, passionate, and active about their positions. Egri calls this process orchestration.

Recepies for creating conflicting characters:

Optimist vs. pessimist
Miser vs. spendthrift
Honest vs. dishonest
Loyal vs. disloyal
Believer vs. non-believer
Agapi vs. Erotas

Diametrically opposed values make conflicting characters inevitable. Two perfectly orchestrated characters will oppose, or, perhaps, even destroy each, other depending on circumstances, making your story a page turner.

Although conflicting characters form the foundation of any good story, you should first determine why they can’t simply walk away from each other, while the conflict rages. Determine the precise nature of the unbreakable bond that keeps them together until the climax: is it revenge, hate, jealousy, pain?

Summary

Conflicting characters generate story interest when they are forced into an unbreakable union. As they struggle to break their bonds, they generate even more rising conflict that drives the story forward.

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

One thought on “Conflicting Characters Sell Stories”

  1. It is a universal truth that the best villains in both history and fiction truly believed that there motives are because of the best of intentions . The idea of uniting all Germans and German speaking people and restoring national pride after a world war and global recession devastated Germany. This is what made Hitler the man of the moment. In the new Avengers movie the antagonist believes his slaughtering of half a planet’s population truly is a act of mercy. “It was the same wherever I went , limited resources and to many mouths to feed.” In Jurassic Park Dr. Ian Malcolm & Dr. Alan Grant signals out John Hammond as the primary antagonists. When Hammond defends his quest to use genetically engineered Dinosaurs for profit Dr Malcolm retaliates:

    “How can we not react when we stand at the verge of discovery?”
    ” What you call discovery I call the rape of the natural world.”

    Hammond is like the “dark side of Walt Disney”. He is portrayed as a cold, eccentric CEO interested only in making a profit and succeeding in creating dinosaurs.

    In short : Some of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity is credited to the best intentions.

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