How to Manage Character Conflict

Boy with raised fists

Transitioning Conflict:

Staying with the work of Lagos Egri, and still on the subject of character conflict, this post examines this most powerful force that exists between characters. Egri informs us that there are four types of conflict in writing:

1. Foreshadowing (good)
2. Static (bad)
3. Jumping (bad)
4. Slowly rising (good)

Foreshadowed conflict should occur near the beginning of the story and should point to the forthcoming crisis. In Romeo and Juliet, the warring families are already such bitter enemies that they ready to kill each other from the get-go.

Static conflict remains even, spiking for only the briefest of moments and occurs only in bad writing. Arguments and quarrels create static conflict, unless the characters grow and change during these arguments. Every line of dialogue, every event must push towards the final goal.

In jumping conflict, the characters hop from one emotional level to another, eliminating the necessary transitional steps. This is also bad writing.

Avoid static and jumping conflict at all costs, by knowing, in advance, what road your characters must travel:

Fidelity to infidelity
Drunkenness to sobriety
Brazenness to timidity
Simplicity to pretentiousness

The above represent two extremes—start and destination.

Transition

You must have transitions between states. Supposing a character goes from love to hate. Let’s imagine there are seven steps between the two states:

1. Love
2. Disappointment
3. Annoyance
4. Irritation
5. Disillusionment
6. Indifference
7. Disgust
8. Anger
9. Hate

If a character goes from 1 to 5 at once, this constitutes jumping conflict, neglecting the necessary transition. In fiction, every step must be clearly shown. When your character goes through steps 1 to 9, you have slowly building conflict. Each level is more intense than the previous one, with each scene gathering momentum until the final climax.

Summary

Foreshadowed, slow-rising conflict, which transitions from level to level, is the best way to orchestrate opposition amongst your story’s characters.

Invitation

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Image: Philippe Put
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

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