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02.08.2011 15:39    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing  Writing Characters  Writing Craft  Writing Tips  Writing Conflict      Tags: characters  character  conflict development  conflict  

Picture the Conflict One theory of psychiatry refers to "inner pictures" in a person's personal "photo album". As well as being a snapshot of experiences, the pictures are a way to visualize the way think we are, the way life "should" be, the way we think others should act, the things that are "good" or "bad". Retouching the inner pictures, painting over their images, or discarding them as outdated, is usually painful.


Feelings are when something happens that matches a picture (feels good, or at least feels familiar) or is different from a picture (feels bad, feels different, makes us uneasy). In literary terms, we have conflict when the pictures don't match ... what the characters have to do to bring the pictures in line with the events is plot and its resolution.


Mismatches between pictures within a character create inner conflict. Your heroine's images of "good daughter" and "successful career" might not overlap. Picture mismatches between characters create conflict. A hero with "risk = fun" and a heroine with "risk = losing a loved one" pictures have some adjustments to make.


Behavior is what we do in an attempt to make external events match the pictures and make us more comfortable. You can:


  • overpaint the picture (change your expectations)
  • try to bring the exterior world into conformance with your picture (alter the behavior of others, retreat from a conflict, or alter your environment)
  • alter your behavior to make the picture attainable (pursue a goal)
  • numb the feelings with addictions (drugs, power, sex, religion, work, or activities).


For example, a picture of worthlessness leads a person to ignore those who treat them nicely and seek out partners who reinforce the picture by treating them worthlessly. Attempting to change the exterior to match the interior is another defense - insisting that another person live up to your inner image of their role in your life is common. Which defense is your character most likely to use?


People also use "experience filters" that make external events match inner pictures. A heroine whose previous lover dumped her will use a "men are rats" filter for a while. A depressed character will have a "take this in the worst way possible" filter. What filters do your characters use and how will you remove them so your character can see clearly?

Picture Your Characters

What are your characters' inner pictures of themselves? The ideal member of their sex? The opposite sex? Themselves in relation to the opposite sex? Whose picture is sitting on the bedside table? What old pictures are stuck in the back of the album? What is their picture of money, war, work, etc? Which pictures are at odds with the pictures of the other characters?


Pictures can become icons - gilded things to be worshipped and perhaps feared. Our reaction to someone who heads for an icon with the intent of retouching it is like a security guard at the Louve spotting a graffitti artist headed for the Mona Lisa. What icons are hanging on the wall for your character? Religious, political, matrimonial? Are any of the icons trivial ... has squeezing toothpaste from the end been enshrined?



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