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15.01.2016 12:00    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Writing      Tags: randy ingermanson  advanced fiction writing  writing craft  

If you aren’t getting enough conflict in your life, there’s a simple recipe to make people hate you.


I’ll tell you the secret in a minute, but first, here are some simple examples of the method in action. You may have already seen statements like these on the Web, or heard them said:

  • “Global warming is obviously a lie. There’s no possible way humans could affect climate. The whole thing is a conspiracy to destroy the economy.”
  • “It’s a scientific fact that God doesn’t exist.”
  • “Statistics prove that illegal immigrants are ruining the US and the only possible solution is to ship them all home.”
  • “Evolution is mathematically impossible. Therefore, it didn’t happen.”

Did any of those get you riled up? Why? They’re just opinions, aren’t they?


Yes, they’re opinions. But they’re dressed up to look like facts. And that's the problem.


When An Opinion Is A Lie


Most of don’t get irritated when we hear an opinion we disagree with, as long as it’s clearly marked as an opinion.


But we do get irritated when it’s claimed to be a fact. Because then it’s a lie.


And we get really riled when we consider the opinion to be dangerous, because now a lie is being used to do harm. The more harm we see, the more angry we get.


The issue of global warming is a scientific question that has to be settled by a combination of empirical evidence and theoretical analysis. This requires the hard work of doing science. Saying the words “there’s no possible way” is just a way of avoiding that hard work.


The question of God’s existence falls under the subject of philosophy. It’s an unanswered question, with strong philosophical arguments offered by both sides. While science can contribute some data to the philosophers, science itself is not designed to settle the issue.


The matter of undocumented workers is a question of economics, which is a notoriously difficult subject. Even if you could settle the question of whether they are a net benefit, you would still have the gnarly political problem of what to do about it, if anything. Opinions vary widely, but that’s all they are—opinions.


As for evolution, nobody actually knows that evolution is mathematically impossible. Any “proof” would depend on assumptions, and those assumptions would have to be known with certainty. Evolution is a science question, and in science, you’re looking for the best natural explanation of the available evidence.


So a basic rule for living: If you want to get people to hate you, then constantly state your opinions on important issues as if they were known facts. The more absolute you can be, the more hate you’ll arouse.


The converse is not necessarily true. Even if you preface your opinions with markers like “in my opinion,” there are always going to be some people who will take offense. These are typically the people who can’t distinguish between fact and opinion, and you can decide for yourself whether you want to get along with them.


Using This in Your Fiction


Now what does this have to do with fiction?




Fiction is all about characters in conflict.


You need every tool you can get to legitimately enhance the conflict in your fiction.


The key word here is “legitimately”. We have a tool for increasing conflict—have a character assert an opinion as if it were a fact.


That works if the character genuinely doesn’t know the difference between a fact and an opinion. In that case using the tool is legitimate.


It also works if the character knows the difference, but has some good motivation for being a troll.


It doesn’t work when the character knows the difference and has no reason for being a troll, other than making it convenient for you, the author.


What this means is that you need to know your characters. What are their blind spots—points where they genuinely think they “know” something that they don’t actually know? (Most everybody has these blind spots.) What might motivate them to intentionally be a troll? (Most everybody can be moved to do something naughty when there’s a good enough reason.)


Note that every community has its own set of common assumptions and beliefs that it treats as facts. A minister preaching a sermon in his own church doesn’t need to say “in my opinion” before every sentence. Neither does a football coach when he’s telling the team how they’re going to dismantle their opponents next week. Neither does a politician when giving a fund-raising speech to his party faithful.


But when you bring in an outsider who doesn’t share the community beliefs, you get instant conflict for that outsider. He may well disagree with everything he hears. Does he speak up, and make himself the target of the community’s rage? Or does he shut up, and boil silently inside? One way or another, he’s going to have conflict. The only choice is whether it’s external or internal.



  • When was the last time you heard an opinion that infuriated you?
  • What made you so angry about that opinion?
  • Was there a way that the speaker could have expressed the opinion to make it less antagonistic?
  • Was there a way to make it even more infuriating?



About The Author


Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction, with over 11000 readers.


Randy is best known for his "Snowflake Method" of designing a novel. The "Snowflake" page on his web site has been viewed more than 514,000 times over the years.


Randy believes that prepublished novelists fall into four distinct stages, Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors. Each of these stages has its own unique needs. Have you been a Freshman longer than you think you should? Or are you stuck in a Sophomore slump? If you'd like to move up to that pesky "next level," check out Randy's acclaimed lecture series, Fiction 101 and Fiction 201. Don't settle for where you are! Take action today.

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