Three types of conflict

HareBrain

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I first read this idea in Nigel Watts's excellent book "Writing a Novel". I don't know if it's his creation, but I haven't seen it elsewhere, and after being reminded of it recently, I think it deserves to be more widely known.

He posits that you can divide the sources of conflict in a story into three basic types or levels:

Internal
Interpersonal
Environmental (this can be nature but also society, cultural mores etc.)

And he says that if you add another source of conflict of the same type to a story, it complicates it**. If you add another source of a different type, it deepens it.

I think this is a very clever and simple way of looking at it -- one of those things that seems so obvious when pointed out, but which I would never have thought of myself. If I were about to start another big story, I'd bring this into my planning, and try to give roughly equal weight to each type.

** This isn't necessarily bad, up to a point.
 

Phyrebrat

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Internal
Interpersonal
Environmental (this can be nature but also society, cultural mores etc.)
Thank you for making me feel clever about my WIP seeing as each of my 3 POVs have all three.

Fwah fwah fwah.

Seriously, though, I can't say I did it on purpose, but that it came organically perhaps from working with the characters themselves. However having it labeled as above makes things easier next time round, as a resource. Nice.

pH
 

Luiglin

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Thank you making me feel like an idiot about my WiP. Looks like shelving/scrapping the 50k plus words I've done.
 

Luiglin

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Come on, I’m sure that’s overstating it; you’re a Chronner!

pH
Honestly? No.

There is none of those that can be obviously drawn out from it. There is a plot, key themes and types of conflict but none that match those suggested above. It's truly been a pants bit of work.

Maybe I need to leave the Dark Lord stuff alone and try going back the grimdark. It's not as fun to write but more obvious to plot.
 

Brian G Turner

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Pfft! A first draft is all about just getting something down on paper - that's why you have 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc rewrites - to push in and develop important story points, such as conflict, character development, world-building, etc.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Honestly? No.

There is none of those that can be obviously drawn out from it. There is a plot, key themes and types of conflict but none that match those suggested above. It's truly been a pants bit of work.

Maybe I need to leave the Dark Lord stuff alone and try going back the grimdark. It's not as fun to write but more obvious to plot.
Models can always be taken with a pinch of salt...
 

HareBrain

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none that match those suggested above
The three divisions Watts uses aren't the only ones possible, as tinkerdan shows. And the divisions isn't the important bit, it's that multiple sources of conflict of the same type leads to complexity, whereas multiple sources of different types (however those types are defined) tends to lead to increased depth.

And not having an equal balance doesn't mean failure. Almost any novel by, say, Agatha Christie, will be massively weighted towards interpersonal conflict, because detective mysteries are meant to be that way.
 

Luiglin

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it's that multiple sources of conflict of the same type leads to complexity, whereas multiple sources of different types (however those types are defined) tends to lead to increased depth.
And there's the point. What I've written has no true complexity or depth. It's a comedy fantasy at it's heart. Adding complexity and depth breaks a comedy.

While I'm not comparing myself to Pratchett. In my opinion, his finest works were relatively simple. When he went too deep or complex the comedy became lost or more specifically submerged.

I'm going to have to take a long hard look at the stuff I've done and whether it's worth carrying on. Apologies @HareBrain, I've hijacked your thread somewhat.
 

HareBrain

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And there's the point. What I've written has no true complexity or depth. It's a comedy fantasy at it's heart. Adding complexity and depth breaks a comedy.
Well, there's nothing to say that complexity or depth are always necessarily desirable. What I put in the first post is an observation, not a prescription. If you think complexity and depth ruin comedy, and you're writing comedy, then you're better off keeping it simple.
 

The Big Peat

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First time I saw them was in a Jim Butcher article where he gave Man Vs Self, Man Vs Man, and Man Vs Environment, which is a less satisfyingly full way of doing it than the model HareBrain or TinkerDan posted. But it's all roughly the same.

I don't think about it much. It's good theory, but I think it's the sort of theory that tends to be very intuitive and most authors are sticking it in without thinking. Including, I bet, Luiglin. Even Pratchett's simplest works featured plenty of Interpersonal (Rincewind wants to stay alive, at liberty and free of pain vs Other Person Desires Inverse) and a macro overlying theme of Environmental/Man vs Fate (Rincewind desires a simple life vs Fate won't give him one).
 

-K2-

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And there's the point. What I've written has no true complexity or depth. It's a comedy fantasy at it's heart. Adding complexity and depth breaks a comedy.

Okay, I'll buy the above. Point being, you'll still have conflict. It's what makes comedy. As to depth, what you're possibly looking for is the depth of the gag. IOW, how often can you get them to shoot milk out their nose per chapter. Everything (I suspect) has different measuring sticks. Apply what works in an intricate space opera to your slapstick... and, you're right, it doesn't work.

And sometimes, a good story no matter how shallow (details, world building, drama, plot), still makes for a good story.

Just my opinion.

K2
 

Phyrebrat

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It's truly been a pants bit of work.
I think it's really important to realise the labels we put on ourselves and other things are not empirical and other people see them differently. I feel sad that you've spent time writing something and it's left you feeling so negative. How many people manage to finish one story? flash fiction, even? Every time I see someone make a pronouncement here or on Twitter or what have you, I immediately internalise it and think 'Oh my WIP is a load of <beep>!' even though I've had some lovely feedback now and then about my style. We're our own worst judges.

It's not as fun to write
This might be the key to it. If something isn't enjoyable, then I doubt you're going to produce your best work. If you like writing the DL, then keep on it. In reality, it's not even important what you think about the Grimdark vs comedy, it's what the readers think. If they like the DL stories, you can take solace in that. If they don't, then you take solace in the fact you enjoy it. If I put my wip up here, even after countless revisions and edits, I know there'll be plenty of people who won't like it. I even know the ones who won't. But taste is taste, right?

I'm going to have to take a long hard look at the stuff I've done and whether it's worth carrying on.
Why be absolute about it? You can have a break - or not - you needn't make a decision to stop something that clearly makes you happy. Often we put the cart before the horse here in Chrons, thinking about the end = getting published, but it's important to remember there are as many exceptionally well-written stories which never get picked up as there are poor ones. It's no measuring stick.

And as I said, we're our own worst judge.


pH
 

Luiglin

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I think it's really important to realise the labels we put on ourselves and other things are not empirical and other people see them differently. I feel sad that you've spent time writing something and it's left you feeling so negative. How many people manage to finish one story? flash fiction, even? Every time I see someone make a pronouncement here or on Twitter or what have you, I immediately internalise it and think 'Oh my WIP is a load of <beep>!' even though I've had some lovely feedback now and then about my style. We're our own worst judges.



This might be the key to it. If something isn't enjoyable, then I doubt you're going to produce your best work. If you like writing the DL, then keep on it. In reality, it's not even important what you think about the Grimdark vs comedy, it's what the readers think. If they like the DL stories, you can take solace in that. If they don't, then you take solace in the fact you enjoy it. If I put my wip up here, even after countless revisions and edits, I know there'll be plenty of people who won't like it. I even know the ones who won't. But taste is taste, right?



Why be absolute about it? You can have a break - or not - you needn't make a decision to stop something that clearly makes you happy. Often we put the cart before the horse here in Chrons, thinking about the end = getting published, but it's important to remember there are as many exceptionally well-written stories which never get picked up as there are poor ones. It's no measuring stick.

And as I said, we're our own worst judge.


pH
Cheers PH, I must clarify one thing though. When I said the 'pants' bit I meant I've pantsed written it rather than plotted. Hence why I don't believe it to be deep or complicated.

I've only let one small part of the DL WiP out into the wild to be read and it got a bit of a constructive mauling (useful but also a touch intimidating). As such, I'm not sure if it is pants (ie bad) or not :LOL:

That has cheered me up though. Cheers all for the replies.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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and a macro overlying theme of Environmental/Man vs Fate (Rincewind desires a simple life vs Fate won't give him one).
Actually, I suspect that, in the Discworld universe, "Man vs. Fate" would in fact still be called Interpersonal Conflict....

@Luiglin, forgive me if I'm making some silly assumptions...but the existence of a "Dark Lord" sounds an awful lot like Interpersonal Conflict to me! And if your Dark Lord is in fact the one featured in your (quite brilliant) 75-worder last month, he already sounds pretty well-endowed with conflict potential, at the very least for all those elves he's wandering around killing on sight.

I would never, however, discourage anyone from taking a good long look at their work and seeing where it can be improved. That being said, I doubt you need to worry much over this model--I've known it for a while, and only marginally found it a useful way of looking at things. For me, it's always been more profitable to look at the sorts of books that I enjoy reading (and shows I enjoy watching) and figuring out what works and doesn't work for them--and why. Going back to the source material for the model, as it were. Certainly knowing the difference between internal and external conflict is pretty useful--but whether my plot measures up to another writer's categorization of plot types is, as far as I'm concerned, basically irrelevant. If it's a true and useful model, I'll see the evidence for it from my own reading. If not, who cares? Although I'll admit it's a pleasant surprise when someone else's observations about anything to do with the craft of writing exactly match my own. It's yet another confirmation that we're not alone in our difficulties as writers, and that truth is not subjective.

On the subject of complexity, well, I've listened to the first six radio plays of Hitchhiker's Guide, which was not complex or deep in any way--but it was still amazingly funny, and influenced my own sense of humor for at least a month afterwards. Depth is not necessary for a fun story.

Simple, in the words of the great Sir Terry, is not the same as stupid.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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@Luiglin, could I ask what type of conflict your story does include, that doesn't match the ones featured? The thing is, I've had to do some pretty hefty rethinking of my own current story over the last few months, and I know how huge an undertaking it is. If you're really set on it, I'm wondering if there's any way I can help.
 

Luiglin

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@Luiglin, could I ask what type of conflict your story does include, that doesn't match the ones featured? The thing is, I've had to do some pretty hefty rethinking of my own current story over the last few months, and I know how huge an undertaking it is. If you're really set on it, I'm wondering if there's any way I can help.
That's kind of you to offer. However, at this moment I need to either go back a look at rewriting chunks or finish off the existing piece and then rewrite. I'm also cognisant that I've hijacked the thread from @HareBrain's original post and while I'm happy to do that for fun on less serious threads, I don't believe it's fair on ones like this.
Again, cheers for the posts folks, it does help.
 

Elckerlyc

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I'm also cognisant that I've hijacked the thread from @HareBrain's original post and while I'm happy to do that for fun on less serious threads, I don't believe it's fair on ones like this.
I don't think you are hijacking the thread. It contributes directly to the discussion if and to what degree (the diferent types of ) conflicts in your plot matter.
 
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