Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Nature of Conflict

Is there anyone out there who has not lived through, or been on the fringes of, some form of natural disaster?
Flood, fire, storm, tornado, blizzard...?
Ask yourself what details you remember most.
The small things. The needful things.
We've all read stories where the extreme forces of nature provide not only as form of conflict and a supporting atmosphere but also modus to drive the plot. Natural drama.
Hero and heroine stranded on an ice flow, for example.
Often we are treated to vivid settings of howlings, smashings, crashings, grindings, burnings, rushings, blindings, roarings and screamings let loose.
Did I mention howlings?
Done it mesel'.
Nothing wrong with it.
But I wonder if it is not the specific and personal details that might lift these competent- but general, broad and generic - descriptions above others of their ilk.
Provide that sense of reality to which the reader will relate and identify.
Small things that might make the reader nod their mental head and say "yup."
The scene had nothing to do directly with storms, disasters or conflict, but am reminded of one in an Elizabeth Moon novel.
As the heroine was tending her horse at an inn she saw a stream of milk out the stable door hit the face of a waiting cat.
I once saw my father do the same.
I was with her all the way after that. My sense of disbelief was irrevocably suspended. Her horse could have changed immediately into a pink giraffe and it wouldn't have mattered. Moon had proved she knew rural.
Bonnie has provided a number of flood pictures on her site.
There's a shot of her plastic heron.
One thing that struck me was the contrast between the roiling relentless waters and the sunshine.
Reminded me of the day the Towers fell.


Jen said...

I know what you mean, Bernita. I feel that way about dialogue. Those snappy comments have to seem believeable. My grammar check hates me because my dialogue is like people actually talk (I hope) and people don't talk the way Strunk and White write.
I relate to character's feelings. Terry Brooks managed to get me so connected to characters, that when they died, I was very sad.
That's the connection between author and reader I would love to be able to have.

Flood said...

The Red Tent really stuck with me because I could relate a bit to each of the women portrayed. Each death in that book was a blow to me.

I enjoy reading things that I have no experience with, but like Jen says, the character has to speak to me somehow.

You're right about little peices of human nature ringing true to the reader to compel them to read on. I think we all strive for that when we write.

Ric said...

Striving to be real - even when it isn't a plot point. Habits, like lifting the tea kettle when you turn on the gas to see if there's water in it.
The best is when a reader says, "I do that." Creates an identification with the character, however small.

Bernita said...

Now, that is an excellent example, Ric.
And I think such can have a place even in the most dramatic scenes.

Readers have to be able to "hear" the characters voices, Jen.
Something characteristic of the type, yet individual.
Does depend on the scene/character - partly because some people, on occasion, DO talk the way Strunk & White ( keep wanting to say "Shrunk and White") write.

It pays, Flood, for a writer to try to figure out just "why" we relate to a character. Or why we'll go back and re-read a scene.

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita I always say "Skunk and White."

Great post.

Bhaswati said...

How true. The best snippets in a work of fiction are these little quirks of mannerisms, these peculiar responses to the surrounding atmosphere that makes characters memorable.

An area in which I still need to do a lot of work, when it comes to my own writing.

Did I say great post?

Bernita said...

Third try.
Blogger picking its nose.

Thank you, Jaye and Bhaswati.

One line of dialogue that sticks in my mind is from a snippit Gabriele posted...a character confronts an armed group and snaps out "Make way or pay for it!"
I can see and feel the entire scene in that one line - the iminent violence, the intensity, the testosterone.

Another scene, also from Gabriele, include a character playing with a belt knife while conversing on the walkway of a castle wall. Genuine. Effective.

kmfrontain said...

Natural disasters...the topic reminded me of a reccurrent natural event. I lived up near James Bay for a bit, and every spring, ice as thick as I was tall broke apart and crunched together and made a rumbling noise. The banks were scoured by these horrendous pieces that went on and on going south, and I stood a dozen feet back from it and still felt threatened. You don't actually have to be in the disaster to know nature can kill you dead. She just has to thumb her nose at you.

Anyhow, for writing, I like making my characters zoom into super clarity during life-threatening events, because this happened to me during a car incident that could have ended badly, but fortunately didn't. Time slowed, the world was brighter, and details were very clear. Oddly enough, sound faded, but perhaps that was because time slowed.

M.E Ellis said...

I must be incredibly lucky where I live as I can honestly say I have not lived through any of those disasters you mentioned.

Humbled now.


S. W. Vaughn said...

It is definitely the little things that make novels come to life. That's why it is so important to know everything about your characters -- and then deliberately NOT put everything you know into the narrative. Those details you know help you, consciously or unconsciously, breathe life into your creations.

S. W. Vaughn said...

BTW, I just realized that Bonnie and I are practically neighbors *waves to Bonnie* -- we're both in upstate New York; I'm about two hours north of Binghamton.

Bernita said...

The only floes I've seen, KM, were about four feet thick ( thought that's about how tall I was at the time) but their inexorable mass impresses one.Profoundly.

Oddly enough, when passing out, sound is usually the last sense to go and the first to come back.Can't remember about accidents - been too long since I was in one.

There's time yet, Michelle.

Erik Ivan James said...

Had my s**t blown away in a tornado once. Ruined my night's sleep entirely.

Bernita said...

Master of the classic understatement, Erik!

Not being a detailed plotter, I tend to find out those things about my characters when they tell me about them, Sonya...but your point is good.

Savannah Jordan said...

I think, in writing as in real life, nothing is trivial. Sometimes it is that little incident, that truism, that makes the scene, the fight, the tragedy all the more real.

kmfrontain said...

Perhaps for passing out, yes, sound might be last to go, but I wasn't passing out. I was like a zoom lens during this auto accident. Everything except sound was very very clear.

Bernita said...

Yes, I understand that, KM, an accelerated consciousness...was just considering its reverse based on sound perception.

The significant detail, Savannah, seems to carry a lot of weight.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hi S.W. *she waves a limp arm*...disasters...I don't want to talk about least until this one is over!

Bernita said...

Bonnie is up to her elbows, knees and neck helping others out.

archer said...

A brat in my kid's class wrote:

So being in the tsunami was pretty scary for a while. But it didn't stop our Singapore trip from being the best vacation ever!!!

Bernita said...

Bet the kid enjoyed the excitement, Archer.

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