Monday, September 23, 2013

Conflict is Key

Mary Gottschalk
Every good fiction writer knows that conflict is key. The main characters in a novel must have clearly defined desire lines … something they want badly enough to persevere in the face of every obstacle. 
It’s a challenge even when your character’s desire line is concrete: getting rich, becoming president of the United States or finding the murderer (or avoiding being caught). You still need characters whose internal conflicts give the story depth and intrigue.
The challenge is exponentially harder when the key characters have desire lines based on abstract goals: making a contribution to people’s lives, bringing peace to the world, or being seen as loyal and dependable. As with all good fiction, the story arc is based on conflicting desire lines. But in my upcoming novel, A Fitting Place, the characters have, in some way, actually contributed to creating the very problem they are trying to solve, and are often the source of the obstacles that get in the way of a solution.  
Just like in real life.  This is the dilemma most of us live until we learn to break out of our comfort zone. 
In fiction, as in life, The Enneagram, which classifies personality types based on unconscious motivation, can be helpful. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, each of the nine personality types can be evaluated in terms of the effectiveness with which they go about converting these abstract goals into real world accomplishments.
Take for example, the conflicting desire lines of my two key characters in A Fitting Place. As a “thinker,” my protagonist (Lindsey) takes prides in being knowledgeable, capable and self-reliant.  On her good days, she is thoughtful, perceptive, and a very good listener. On her bad days, she can be self-absorbed, secretive, and remarkably unaware of the emotional mood of her environment.
In contrast, my antagonist (Joan) is a “missionary” who wants to be helpful and nurturing.  On her goods days, she is compassionate, sympathetic and highly attuned to what other people need or want.  On her bad days, she is possessive and manipulative and can be masterful at inducing a sense of guilt into those reject her overtures.
Because both my characters are flawed—they operate at different points on the effectiveness spectrum on different days—the opportunities for mayhem and misunderstanding abound, as do the possibilities for significant personal growth and development. 
A Fitting Place is a story in which the challenges, mis-steps and successes of characters in conflict should be familiar to readers who (like most of us) have both good days and bad.  Good days, when we are happy with who we are and how we respond to the people around us.  Bad days, when we are our own worst enemy.
Do you ever have days on which you are your own worst enemy?
Mary has made a career out of changing careers.  After finishing her MBA, she spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, working as an economist, a banker and a financial consultant to major corporations.  She has worked in New York, New Zealand, Australia, Central America, Europe, and amazingly, Des Moines, Iowa. 
Along the way, she dropped out several times.  In the mid-1980’s, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the multi-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam.  Twice, she left finance to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community, first in New York and later in Des Moines.
In her latest incarnation, she defines herself as a writer.  She is working on her first novel (A Fitting Place), freelances, and lectures on the subject of personal risk-taking.
 Links to books and social media sites

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