In his screenwriting book Save The Cat, Blake Snyder advises writers to treat each scene like a little story with it’s own narrative arc, including a conflict and a resolution. I still must remind myself of this sometimes when a chapter is dragging – Where is the conflict? I have a tendency, when I can’t think of anything better, to simply have my characters give information. The information is necessary, but the delivery is dull. So I go back in and ask, How can I give this same information through conflict? Like a lot of people, I am willing to twist myself up to avoid conflict, which is perhaps why I have to remember to put it into my fiction. But a great teacher once pointed out that what we call conflict is actually contrast. That is, we see something in someone else that is different from ourselves – or we read a book we don’t like, hear a politician with whom we disagree – and we are stimulated by this contrast toward what it is we want. No, not that, we think, this!
The most common mistake in the world, maybe, is to respond to this feeling of wanting something different by trying to change the person that stimulated it in ourselves. This is entirely backwards. If someone writes a book you don’t like, you don’t (hopefully) look her up and tell her to rewrite it. No, you read a different book or, perhaps, write one yourself.
And this is what many of us are actually writing about in our books: contrast. All the conflict in all the novels is a result of people who want different things and the resulting commotion. For isn’t a scene always stronger when you know for sure what it is all your characters want? Of course. Our characters are seeking peace within themselves and going about it all the wrong way, which can be a lot of fun to watch.
This is why I think everyone is a peace-nick. In truth, no one wants to be at war, they merely see war as the most pragmatic means to peace. So I’m a peace freak like everyone else, and I bear this in mind when I put my characters through their turmoil. The more I remember that these characters wish to be at peace with themselves, the easier it is to disrupt their peace. I know in the end that they are headed in a crooked path toward the only resolution any heart desires.