In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield outlines a new way of thinking about conflict that helpfully addresses this range of real human approaches, from violent to passive.
She uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."
Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.
I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.
The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have, and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power.
How characters relatePower in relationships can be about hierarchy. Private to sergeant. Novice to expert. Citizen to leader. Subject to king. Within hierarchical relationships, certain rules govern how the more powerful can exert his power. Power plays in these relationships will often revolve around these rules to uphold what is just and good.
Other relationships are based on equity and intimacy--friends, colleagues, partners, lovers. These, too, will at times become out of balance because of something internal or external to the relationship. A lover grows bored. A friend becomes popular and hip. A colleague cheats. A partner gets lazy. One party will often try to take the upper hand and exert power temporarily in order to restore or create balance and intimacy in the relationship.
Somewhere in between are relationships that are both hierarchical and intimate: parent and child, mentor and protege, teacher and student, older and younger sibling. In these relationships, restoring intimacy will at times trump restoring justice, or vice versa.
Keep this in mind as you build character conflict: is the relationship hierarchical, equitable, or mixed? It will make all the difference in how the characters will wield power.
How one wields powerThe tools of exchange in a negotiation will vary among relationships and temperaments. Some exchanges will use mostly negative tools, others mostly positive. The most compelling exchanges will use a mix of both.
|En garde, scoundrel! (Photo: Grafixar from morguefile.com)|
compare to enemy
remind of past failure
|Pretty please?? (photo: morguefile.com)|
call in a favor
compare to hero
expose inner self
remind of goal or dream
remind of past triumph
What are your common approaches to conflict? Which type of relationship in conflict do you most enjoy writing? Least enjoy or struggle with?