Janet asked me an interesting question about my last blog post and since I’m scraping around trying to find things to blog about, I thought I’d actually give my answer as a post. This comes with the usual caveat that my answer is my thoughts about the subject, thoughts that could be totally erroneous, sadly misguideded or plain old wrong. On the other hand they could be so totally brilliant that you will want to bow before the power of my awesomeness (presents and small tokens of thanks are always appreciated). 🙂
Okay, so Janet ask me to give an example of the difference between a character trait and conflict. This was in response to me saying that what I thought was conflict in my heroine, turned about to be a character trait. So what do I mean?
Well, we’re told that asking the ‘why’ questions are really important to figuring out conflict. And it’s true, you do need to ask those questions. But my problem is that I didn’t know when to stop! My heroine – I thought – is an emotional girl so I kept asking myself, “This is her conflict so why is she emotional? Why? Why? Why?”. I kept looking for a reason for my heroine to not hide how she felt but there wasn’t one that fitted with the idea of her I had in my mind. So there comes a stage where the ‘why’ comes down to ‘well, they were born that way’. And if they were born that way, it becomes a character trait, not the conflict. So one of my heroine’s character traits is that she has no problem with telling everyone exactly how she feels.
Where the conflict comes into it is how this character trait makes the character behave in response to certain situtions in their lives. Not hiding how she feels is NOT the conflict, but it does affect how she responds to the conflict. Does that make any sense?
My hero, on the other hand, is emotionless – which of course is a big lie because he’s not really. But being emotionless is his response to his conflict. He’s actually just like her, feels things very deeply, but unlike her, his experience has taught him that such emotions are dangerous and he won’t have a bar of them. So he’s shut himself down.
Here’s another example. Perhaps you might have a hero who really, really likes cars. He likes the way they look and the mechanics and the speed, he’s just right into them. And perhaps there’s no reason for it, he’s just always been the kid who loves machines. So his liking of cars is NOT his conflict. It’s part of his character. But say he had a car as a teenager he lovingly built from the ground up, spent years on it, spent lots of money on it, it was his baby. And say his father decided he spent too much time on his cars when he should be in school and so sold his beloved car without telling him…. This is where his love of cars interacts with what could potentially be some great conflict, because it’s not really about how much he loves cars is it? It’s about how he views his Dad. How he responds to this would be a character trait. Is he the type of guy to head straight into a confrontation with his father? Or is he more of a restrained, quiet type of guy, who would say nothing but spend every resource he had finding the car and getting it back…(no you can’t have this example, I’ve decided I’m going to use it. Hehe!).
So that’s how I view character traits and conflict. Anyone got any more advice cos God knows, I probably need it. 🙂