The rapidly approaching month of November, with all the novel writing it brings, has got me thinking about the writing process quite a bit lately.
I've been watching the lectures by Brandon Sanderson found at WriteAboutDragons.com, and he give excellent advice on everything from plot to characters to style, and throws gummy bears at students who ask questions in the class, which I found amusing.
One of his lectures got me thinking about conflict in novels... conflict is basically another word for plot, because nothing that happens has any weight unless there is some kind of conflict. The basic, classic conflicts are Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and Man vs. Himself (the word "man" being used as a non-gender-specific word). So any time a character comes up against a tornado, the apocolypse, or an abnormal amount of pollen in the air, that is Man vs. Nature. When they are up against the views of society, against a villain, or just against someone who disagrees with them, that is Man vs. Man. And Man vs. Himself is all about internal conflict... whether it is self-doubt or too much confidence, if the conflict stems from something about the character, that is Man vs. Himself.
I love the use of conflict in plot. But not all conflict. I couldn't figure out the difference for a long time. I would read something or see something and think "Well, yes, there is great conflict there... lots of tension... but I don't like it at all. It feels off somehow."
The thing is, the conflicts I love are inevitable conflicts. They are neccessary. When I read a plot twist, my should reaction should be "How could I have not seen this coming?!" You can't just throw characters in opposition to each other, you have to make sure that, given the circumstances, this is the thing that had to happen, because if it didn't, the things you love about the characters would be false. When everything you love about two elements is on the line and conflicting with each other, you have found a good use of conflict.