Characters and Conflict

Outtakes 189

Characters and Conflict

By Cait Collins


Setting up conflict in a story can be tricky. A writer who is not in tune with the various idiosyncrasies of his characters may have difficulty in creating the tension needed to craft plausible conflict. The story is not the incident; it’s in the characteristics of the people involved. Human resources and training department employ personality profiles to help determine the traits that each team member possesses. Knowing the personality types for a team enables managers to better assign tasks and manage a group.

For example, two co-workers have a difference of opinion regarding the best way to handle the upper management directive to set up a data base to track expenditures for the past ten years. The information pertains to the sales department, the tax department, and the advertising department. One of the people charged with the task is methodical; compiling the necessary information with attention to detail.

A second worker approaches the job in a helter skelter manner. There’s no organization or precision in the work. Errors are abundant. It’s impossible for the data to correlate with the more methodical worker’s.

A third person, the peace maker, tries to help out. Instead of getting involved with the project, the team member keeps looking for a “we are friends” moment. Everyone must get along he or she insists. By trying to force peace, the other co-workers become more stressed and less productive. The project stalls and management gets involved.

This is your assignment. Write the confrontation between the three co-workers and the managers.


Consider It

Outtakes 37

Consider It

I have spent many hours training others to do a job. The process can be very rewarding. It’s so much fun to see someone “get it”. There’s the bright eyes, the grin, the high five. That’s the joy of being a trainer. Unfortunately, there have been some disasters. No matter what I tried, or how many time we went over the information, the trainee just couldn’t or wouldn’t catch on. Often they blamed me or their fellow employees for their failures. I really hated the angry scenes, the bitter accusations. In the early days, I blamed myself for a trainee not making the grade. Over the years, I’ve realized it’s not always the teacher’s fault. If the student does not pay attention, does not take notes, doesn’t care, then there is little the trainer can do to change the situation.

Writers need training. There are few naturals out there. Most of us struggle with the craft, hoping there comes a time when the work is easier. I’m not sure that happens. Several years ago, I met author, Nicholas Sparks, at a book signing in Amarillo. He made a statement that floored me. When asked if each new book was easier to write, he told the young writer, “No, in fact it gets harder.” He went on to explain that the expectations were higher with each novel and keeping up the standard became more challenging. He even admitted he was struggling with his new novel. It made me feel hopeful; less alone. I was working on my second novel and often felt as if I hit a wall. This best-selling novelist made me think I could succeed.

The road to success is paved by the writer’s attitude. I’ve been in critique groups with writers who would not listen to honest suggestions. The author would read his chapter; look around the table. You could feel the resentment before the first word was spoken. Reviewer number one starts by complementing elements of the setting or a character. Then he gets down to the problems. The interaction between the antagonist and his son is off. In fact, there’s little chemistry between the two. The scene lacks emotion. Instead of listening and asking for suggestions, the writer hotly defends his work. We’ll understand it all in chapter ten. Sadly, I won’t be around for chapter ten. If I’m not hooked in the first twenty or thirty pages, you will find the unread book in my box to donate to the library.

Even experienced, successful authors have readers. These trusted souls take on the task of reviewing the work, catching mistakes and inconsistencies. The smart author listens and corrects the scenes. Let’s be honest, no one likes criticism. But if you don’t want help, why join a group or work with readers? If you don’t plan to take the advice, don’t waste your time or someone else’s evening.

I’m thankful I have a good critique group. We respect each other and want every member of the group to be successful. We would never intentionally lead another member of the group astray. In turn, we listen, accept the critique, choose what makes good sense and use it to build a better story. A good writer will always be a student. After all, the more we learn and understand, the more exciting the work we will produce.

Cait Collins