Sunday, March 5, 2017

Using Conflict in the Short Story

Writing a full-length novel gives one far more leeway to practice the craft of storytelling without the pressure of trying to put all you need to say in 5000-7000 words or less. There just seems to be more anxiety when you attempt to create characters and story lines to fit into a concise, well-developed short story. So much to say, so little space. However, it's an art form that can build a loyal readership, and sometimes even put a few bucks in your bank account if you hit the right publication. At the least, you just might find your work published in an anthology that affords you bragging rights and the opportunity get your name "out there".  

While there are "literary" or "quality" short stories that are based mainly on characterization, most general market short stories require strong conflict to entice a reader to read on. Instead of pondering or musing about a universal condition or truth, or questioning the philosophies of the masses, mainstream short stories need to present a specific conflict.  

The scenes in a short story are used to characterize, to convey information, and most important, to produce conflict, whether that conflict is emotional or physical. Short story conflict has four main elements. 1. There must be a meeting between two opposing forces. 2. There should be exploitation of  the conflict.       3. There should be a suggestion as to the result of the conflict. 4. The conflict should set up the transition to the next scene. 

The meeting between two opposing forces sets up a win or lose situation. Somebody, or something (a force of nature, etc.), wins or loses, concedes a point, is forced into a decision, or brings about a revelation. And in those plot points lies the exploitation of the conflict, and the result, and thus sets the next scene.

There are three plot reasons for conflict: To eliminate an opponent, to overcome an obstacle (physical or mental), or to divert disaster. And although it's been said that there are only three plots to choose from, there are many variations for which conflict is possible.
Man against man.
Man against men (war).
Man against woman.
Woman against man.
Woman against woman.
Man against nature.
Man against disaster.
Man against environment.
Man against himself.

 Short story scenes are created for conflict in each stage.
1. Set the scene.
2. Introduce characters, pertinent information, and point of view.
3. Suggest the type of story it is through tone, style, and voice.
4. Relay background circumstances which led to the conflict.
5. Use a narrative hook to raise interest in the protagonist's welfare.
1. Present the complication.
2. Relay the series of efforts and attempts to solve the complications, and the failures to do so.
3. Present a situation that suggests a failed resolution of the conflict that convinces the reader that there is no hope of a satisfactory solution.
4. Present a decision that will point to the solution of the conflict, and put that decision into play.
The decision and the solution must be satisfactory and believable to the reader.

There's a lot that goes into a successful short story, but if you break it down into manageable components, 5000 words is no harder than 80,000 words.

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story."
                                                                                  Toni Morrison  

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