Seventeen years ago, I got hitched to my husband, a smart, handsome, 6’4″ fellow with a green thumb and a desert-dry wit. In those seventeen years, I can count, on one hand, the number of significant spats he and I have had. I might not even need to use my thumb. But our marriage is no more solid or joyful than the more pugnacious unions. It simply means that I, a reddish-head with a feisty temper and microscopic patience, married a fellow who will not get within a one-mile radius of conflict.
But he’s getting better. By the time we die (preferably together, in our mid-eighties, in some painless, beautiful way with me wearing decent underwear), I hope to have at least two full hands-worth of conflicts under our marital belt. Why? Because a relationship without any conflict whatsoever can be unsatisfying and stagnant.
A Dramatic Situation invites the reader to emotionally identify with the protagonist’s conflict, to willingly abide alongside that character and her conflict, to dance with the story.
A story without conflict is just as unsatisfying and stagnant. In fact, a story without conflict is not a story at all, only a flat assembly of flat words on a flat piece of paper.
Shall we engage?
Last month we chatted about the Dramatic Question. This month, I’d like to discuss the presence of conflict in a story’s Dramatic Situation. If Dramatic Questions pique the reader’s interest, the Dramatic Situation (as defined by Lyman Baker), “solicits the reader’s empathetic involvement in [a character’s] predicament.” In other words, a story’s Dramatic Situation invites the reader to emotionally identify with the protagonist’s conflict. To willingly abide alongside that character. To dance with the story.
Think about the best novel you have read recently. To what extent were you willing to let yourself be vulnerable to a character’s struggle? Sometimes when we are invited to dance, we say, “No, thank you.” Sometimes we agree to join the brave asker on the dance floor only because we know it’s a short song. But other times we are asked to dance, and we want to dance with this partner, perhaps in spite of sweatiness or mediocre skills, for the rest of our life. Stairway to Heaven on endless repeat. [Read more…]