1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Conflict woes

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Steerpike, Dec 14, 2015.

    The story I'm revising has been troubling me, and now I've figured out where the problem is with the initial draft. Problem is, I'm not sure what to do about it. The problem is that the conflict is too understated and doesn't really satisfy me.

    Premise is, twin girls living in a Maya city in an alternate timeline in which the Mesoamericans beat back the Spanish Conquistadores. Now, in 2015, the city has been westernized. Cars, cell phones, American fashions and television programming etc. One of the twins is set to bring the "old ways" back by undertaking a ritual to communicate with the ancient Maya gods. There's supposed to be a sinister character here if the reader thinks about it, because this is a large city, mostly full of people who have no interest in seeing the ancient gods and beliefs of the Maya return. The more submissive of the two twins is one of those, but she follows along with her sister out of love and because she's always followed her.

    Anyway, the girls gather up what they need, the stronger sister performs the ritual, there is a transformation and the meek sister runs off, but at the end they reunite and head back into the city together. The story has a flashback, but the plot is actually very liner. Sister does A, B, and C, gets result D. I like it, insofar as it goes, but something was bugging me about it and I realized there is no real obstacle, even internal, going on. The strong sister, who is the viewpoint character, is determined to do the ritual from the start, and she does in fact do it.

    Options:

    1) Make the viewpoint character full of doubt. I don't like this so much because I like her character as it is, and it fits with her name and the history I have for her;

    2) Make the meek sister an antagonist who actively opposes the strong sister. Not bad, but again goes against my vision of the meek sister, and how much she loves her older-by-a-minute twin;

    3) Introduce a third-party antagonist who tries to foil the plot. This is a short story, I'd rather not weigh it down with a ton of additional characters.

    4) Change viewpoint to the meek sister, who is in fact torn about helping her twin. Again, not bad, though I like the stronger twin as a viewpoint character.

    5) Something goes wrong with the ritual, and the stronger twin has to struggle to overcome it before the ritual is finally successful. OK, not bad.

    What do you guys think of this? Or are there other ideas that come to mind for making the conflict better so that the resolution is more impactful?

    Part of my problem is I like the story as I envisioned it, and I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it doesn't work in terms of conflict/resolution. But it doesn't. :)
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Do you need exact conflict for a short story? Usually I find shorts are more about themes or slices of ideas. What was your initial feeling for the story?
    Taking your strong sister viewpoint what does she want to get out of the ritual? What's driving her? Is it successful or not what she thought.
    I would actually think the more stronger conflict would be something internal within the mc that's trying to be resolved through her external actions.
     
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  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Very much agree with the above. Especially this bit:

    I'm much the same way with shorts, in that it doesn't have to have a typical conflict like long-form works do. To me, a short story needs to illustrate a point--a specific scene or theme, usually. You just don't have the space to develop a long, drawn-out conflict, and trying to will likely seem forced. The above is a pretty clean way to go about it, I'd think.
     
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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks, both of you. I agree with the above as well. I suppose what is troubling me is that even in terms of internal conflict it's pretty straightforward, without a lot of obstacles (internal or external). The stronger twin knows what she wants - to reawaken the old gods because she thinks her culture is dying and this will help. She's not really conflicted about doing it; she thinks she knows what is best for her people and what others think be damned. So she sets out to undertake the ritual, and she does undertake it, and while the immediate outcome isn't exactly what she might have predicted, it is clear she succeeded in bringing the old magic back to life.

    Perhaps I'm worrying about nothing, but I guess the MC feels fairly static to me (even though she undergoes a physical transformation by the end).
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You could maybe cloud her motives. Right now she seems selfless but misguided. Maybe she's more selfish or ambitious?
     
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  6. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Minor point: do you mean Meshika instead of Maya? Because the Maya abandoned their cities and left the jungle to retake them, 400 years before there was any contact with the white man.

    But I know that you know that, so I'm just asking for elucidation.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I know :)

    In my alternate universe, the Mexicah never came to prominence, so you never had a so-called Aztec empire. There was no Maya collapse, and as I envision the timeline the primary rival of the Maya at the time of the attempted conquest was the city of Teotihuacan, even though in real history Teotihuacan collapsed a little under 1000 years before the Spanish conquest.

    So while the failure of a conquest is the key difference in the timeline that most readers will note, I have actually played with the timelines of various Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mexicah are in the north, and not significant at the time of conquest. I don't get into a lot of that in the short story. It's clear from the story that the Maya were around in an organized form during the attempted conquest (they were around in real history during the conquest as well, but their civilization had collapsed; there were still lots of Maya), and that the Maya repelled them. The reader will have to then infer that the Maya were still thriving in their cities by 1519.
     
  8. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're in a similar situation to mine when I was writing "The World Below" (which I wrote for a short story contest here about a year and a half ago). In that story I wanted to write about someone low enough to want to commit suicide but who gets stopped right at the last minute. He goes from being stood up at a bar to the roof of his building for most of the story, and I really do nothing but dig into his thoughts. There's really no conflict there--he's already made up his mind. He gets to the top, steps to the ledge, and in the split second before he jumps he hears someone playing guitar. He steps back, finds the person, they talk, and in that very brief time he decides to keep living.

    Where's the conflict? Is there any?

    The similarity I see is that, in your story, he jumps off the building and dies. The end. Otherwise the buildup is essentially the same. Maybe a possible solution is that, after the ritual, she regrets her choice? Maybe she's horrified at what she's become, or the end result isn't what she thought it would be? That would be like having my guy jump but regret it just before hitting the ground. It would be a different story with a different "message," so to speak, but I don't doubt that it would be effective.

    Just a thought. Best of luck!
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I found myself thinking of some sort of betrayal. The older sister is so focused on the cause that she takes away something desperately important to the younger sister, and in the end the two are together, but they will never be the same after that betrayal. I don't know what the desperately important thing is--sacrifices her puppy? Sacrifices her boyfriend? Demands that she destroy the masterpiece that she painted? Demands that she cuts off the hair that is the pride of her life? I lean toward "sacrifices her boyfriend" and we end the story knowing that the two sisters are now dangerously evil.

    Edited to add: Have you read Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog?
     
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  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read that story, though I'm aware of it. I'll check it out. I've read Ellison before, just not that one that I can recall.

    I like the sacrifice idea, and I have a character already in the story who might work from a boyfriend angle. I'll have to mull that over. In a sense, she does sacrifice something that her sister prizes already. Her sister likes modern western culture. She skateboards, and uses her cell phone like any American teenager. What the stronger twin proposes to do is meant to end all that, at least to an extent, and to cause the people to reject "western" culture. I want to be careful with how evil they are. Even the stronger twin, who is driving everything, thinks she's doing what is best. She loves her people and her heritage and thinks that her people have lost their way. What she wants to do would be seen as an evil by most of the city, but I guess I need to find some balance there. As I have her now, she strong-willed, but not cruel to people. She loves her sister very much. Part of her conflict could be seeing how far she takes things. As the story is now, she only puts herself at direct risk. If the ritual fails, it could kill her. But if she were faced with the dilemma of having to harm someone else to make this work...that would certainly be a serious internal conflict, especially if she knows doing it will hurt her little sister emotionally.

    Thanks for the advice. Some new ideas forming as a result of this thread.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I may be asking you to invest more than the story is worth in the context of your book. (It's worth reading on its own, though.) I never learned how to use the "spoiler" thing here or I'd just tell you the point. :)
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I like Ellison, brash as he is. This is one of his better-known stories, so it is something I should read anyway :)
     
  13. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you building up to a sort of twist ending? (Your bit about the physical transformation suggests that things don't go exactly as the protagonist planned? Or did she expect that?)

    If there's a twist, and it's a short story, I don't think you really need any more than that. She has a goal, she works hard to achieve it, and then, when she does, she realizes it's not what she expected. I think that's a solid story.

    If there's no twist, though? Yeah, I feel like you might be lacking a bit of drama. Hard to tell just from a brief, sketchy summary, though.
     
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  14. datahound2u
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    The way I'm reading it, you may already have some conflict going. You just may need to tweak it a bit.

    Obviously, there's a reason that the older sister wants a return to the old ways. Is there something about the new ways that she despises? Will the new ways lead to utter ruin for her, her family, or the people?

    To me, you have the makings of conflict right there. You can likely solidify the conflict with just a paragraph or two.

    I like the premise. It sounds interesting. Good luck with it!!
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @BayView it's something of a twist. She didn't know quite what to expect, and what happens at the end is not something she would have considered possible. I think I need to develop that more. The first draft ends shortly thereafter, so there isn't much time for the character to reflect. I've left it to the reader to think about, but maybe fleshing out that bit would help. Thank you!

    @datahound2u that's a good point as well. Her deeper motivations aren't explored so much. She's worried about her people and wants to "save" them, but it's true that she's taking a pretty drastic step. I think I need to look into that a bit further, and give her a more powerful motivator. Thank you. This is all great advice.
     
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