Friday, December 14, 2012

Deja Vu Blogfest 2012: Opposition!



Today is the 2012 Deja Vu BlogFest, hosted by DL Hammons over at Cruising Altitude 2.0

The point of this blogfest is to pick a post made earlier this year and revive it for a do-over, in order to give it another chance to be read. I decided to bring back an entry I made during the craziness of the A-to-Z Challenge back in April.  I chose this one because this is a topic I've again had on my mind as I've been writing lately -- just how much tension and opposition do I need to insert into my stories to hold a reader's interest?  I'm still trying to find the right amount -- I've gotten feedback in recent rejections that say I don't have enough and others that say I've overdone it and that the story feels forced and artificial.  So what's the right amount, and why do I even need to worry about it?  While I still don't have the subject mastered, I do I think I wrote some relevant comments on this back in April.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my revived Deja Vu post!  I really appreciate it. And HERE is the link for all of the participants taking part in the blogfest -- please stop by each of them to read and enjoy their choices for the do-over!

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2012 A-to-Z Blogfest: "O" Is For...



...Opposition!

 
For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is OPPOSITION.

As a writer who's still trying to learn all I can about writing, one of the things I keep coming across is that the basis for all effective drama is conflict. To hold my reader I have to incorporate conflict, tension, striving against outside forces or inner demons, risk, stakes, and other elements that basically boil down to the same thing – opposition. It doesn't have to be that THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE hinges on every minor detail of my story, but there better be elements of conflict and opposition, even if it's only at the inner emotional level within a single character.

OK, I get it, and actually, I agree. To make for interesting reading, I need to make characters, scenes, and plot elements that highlight tension, conflict, and opposition.

Who wants to read a story about an average guy with a happy life who does average things and everyone around him is happy, and in the end, everything turns out ordinary and happy?

Not a very interesting story idea, I'm afraid.

But sometimes, in my philosophical moods, I wonder: Why is this so? By relying on tension and conflict, am I appealing to the lower elements within us all to peddle my stories? Am I preying on that same instinct that causes us to gawk at accidents, peer out the windows at neighbors in trouble, and gossip around the water cooler over coworkers cheating on their spouses?

Maybe...But I think there's more to it than that.

We relish the drama and tension and opposition in a good story, but we also cheer for the hero who overcomes it, or at the least, sympathize with the protagonist as they sink under it.

I don't think I'm glorifying suffering and opposition – I'm helping provide readers with an escape from the struggles in their own lives, at least for a short while. Or at least I'm connecting with them on a fundamental level and giving them validation that we ALL endure opposition in some ways.

It's not only what makes a good story. It's what makes us human.

So what do you think?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

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And -- from today (12/14/12): Again, thanks for visiting as reading this revived post as part of the 2012 Deja Vu Blogfest!!!

31 comments:

Cindy Dwyer said...

Great post, Chris. I think the whole cheering for the hero part is key. In real life we sometimes have relatively small struggles (a bad work experience, issues in a personal life) that are not life and death, yet we do not overcome them within the few hours a hero can be victorious.

Read through a resolved conflict gives us hope that someday ours my end too - perhaps that co-worker might finally retire! LOL.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Excellent post, and something I'm wrestling with now. In plotting the MG series I'm writing now, I need to make sure the opposition builds throughout the series, while wrapping up within the confines of each book. I was told to read the Percy Jackson series as inspiration, and when I first started, I thought opposition = a monster per chapter. (I wasn't very inspired by that.) But as I continue in the series, I see the complexity building. I hope I'm getting some ideas (but they might be all in my subconscious at this point. :D)

Em said...

Something I have totally thought about! I agree with you about evrything you're saying. The hero has a choice: to take the easy route or to take the harder, more ethical route.

Really good post.

DL Hammons said...

Excellent, excellent choice for a re-do! I consider this one of the building blocks to great writing!

Thank you for taking part today!

Thank you for taking part today!

:)

Simon Kewin said...

Still a great post and you raise some interesting questions. It's obviously possible to go way over the top with an unlikely series of misfortunes. Tension is storytelling is obviously vital, but it all has to be consistent and believable too, does it not?

Faith E. Hough said...

Excellent post. Have you read Aristotle's Poetics? You reminded me of his ideas about the point of great fiction (well, he was talking about tragic plays, but I think it applies to everything) being to provide an experience of catharsis to the viewer (reader, in our cases).
And it's an interesting thing to think about... When is someone's life really "perfect"? Even my 5-year-old thinks her life is full of tension right now. So if you tell a quieter, happier story, you still need to express the character's own unique oppositions, struggles, and tensions...

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I think the appeal of reading about conflict is two-fold. Like you said, it's inspirational to read about someone facing, and hopefully overcoming the problem, especially if it's one we're also facing. But there's also an element of "Whew! At least THAT'S never happened to me!"

Jenny said...

Great post, and it inspired some great comments, too. I agree that we're rooting for the hero, not glorifying the circumstances of the opposition. There also has to be a balance between the character of the hero and the nature of the opposition. I don't mind a bit of a dark hero as long as I can still root for him/her in the end!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think it is because we want to see the main characters overcome. We're looking for hope. When we read about others struggling and overcoming, it makes us want to do the same in our own lives.

Tami Von Zalez said...

Glad to see posts from the A-Z challenge. I missed out on it last year and will be a participant this year. Visiting from the Deju Vu Blogfest. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog post!

thriftshopcommando.blogspot.com

Carrie-Anne said...

I like a conflict or tension that slowly builds throughout a book and then finally comes to a climax in the black moment where everything seems lost. It makes the showdown or the realization of a goal more fulfilling, since it didn't happen too quickly and the tension wasn't too spaced out.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

We all have our struggles which is why we connect with characters who struggle. I think Alex was right that we are looking for hope.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Totally agree. A good story needs opposition--even if its internal opposition.
Great re-post! :)

Gossip_Grl said...

Very nice posting and glad you revived it. As a reader I do like reading those stories with a character that we all hate and the hero character that we all rally behind because sometimes we can connect with that character in ways. I with others comments. Definitely enjoyed reading your posting!

michelle said...

I'm visiting from the Deja-Vu blogfest.
I think tension/obstacles/challenges/ struggle is an integral part of the human condition, something we can all identify with, at different levels/ to different degrees... and we all cling to the idea of "light at the end of the tunnel"... after all, it's true that "hope springs eternal in the human breast"...

JJ said...

Join the club. Great post! I am now your newest follower.

farawayeyes said...

Great post, that I missed the first time around.

The old 'chase your character up a tree and then throw rocks at him'. It is what makes us human.

Arlee Bird said...

I think you got it right. I like to see a character overcome a struggle with lots of tension and thrills along the way. However I might be one of those weird people who might enjoy a well written story about an average guy with an average life on an average day. It seems I've read a few stories like that, but it's probably difficult to pull off successfully.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Cynthia said...

I hear what you're saying when you refer to the "lower elements" of human nature, the kind that causes people to rubberneck during accidents. But I'd also consider how we humans are a curious species- a lot of the advances we've made as a group have had to do with our need to learn and explore. Perhaps you can imagine your reader as a scholar of different worlds, the kind that books can create, as opposed to being just a nosy rubbernecker.

A new follower here...found you through the Deja Vu blogfest. Hope to read more from you!

Shannon Lawrence said...

I guess the reality is that not many people have a happy life with no ups and downs. At least not all the time. It's sad that we can't find a story like that interesting, though.

I don't really have advice on the subject except to say that the story has to be what interests YOU. If you're getting mixed reviews, it's time to set those aside and decide how you feel about the amount of tension in the book. Does it interest you? Do you feel you have too much, too little or just right?

Good luck!

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Lydia Kang said...

I agree. Without that tension, the story becomes flat. Great post!

Nicole said...

Great post! "It's what makes us human." So true.

Kari Marie White | Writing By Heart said...

What a great post. We connect strongly to characters because we recognize something in them. It's that human connection that I strive to find in my own work. In return, I've become much more connected to how I feel about stuff. A result I hadn't expected, but it's pretty cool.

Elise Fallson said...

Trying to balance it all is so difficult. But for me, I think it's not so much the drama itself, but how people, characters, overcome that drama or what ever misfortune in their lives. Reading a story about someone who has nothing but drama and tragedy in their lives would interest me as much as someone who had the perfect uneventful life, which is to say it wouldn't interest me at all. Great post Chris, and something I struggle with my own wip too.

Julie Dao said...

I really like this post. A story wouldn't be a good story without opposition. Readers want to see struggle and they want to see heroes overcome that struggle, because it gives them strength too. It's all part of life and living - learning to jump over hurdles - and I love how that is played out in books, whether it's a quiet struggle (family, a marriage, school) in a contemporary book or on a larger scale like good-vs-evil in a war epic/fantasy.

Guilie said...

Great reminder, Chris. Tension--opposition--is indeed key to good fiction. I think it has to do with transformation. A good story shows us how the characters transform, and why. For this to happen conflict is necessary--and that's a life lesson in itself. Without opposition--when things go smoothly, when there's no rough patches, nothing to overcome--there's no growth. We strive for that smoothness, that ordinariness--what is happiness, if not that?--but in truth, what makes us better people is conflict.

Tonja said...

I'm having some inner conflict about how to respond.

The thing that I love about writing is putting a character in the worst situation for them. The conflict can be perceived conflict, but it has to get them motivated to do something or there's no story.

LTM said...

Hey, Chris! I remember this post from the first time around! And I hate that I missed the Deja Vu fest. Always fun stuff.

I agree that tension is the whole point. It's absolutely necessary. Even if it's the average guy with a happy life having some unexpected conflict. Maybe his dog disappears?

Great post! Have a wonderful holiday! <3

Medeia Sharif said...

This is a great repost. I'm ready to revise a draft I wrote during the summer by adding more tension and opposition. I had a nagging feeling the story was flat, and after a few months of thinking about it I know how to change the story.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Interesting point of view. Opposition also provides us with a different way of looking at the same situation.

Elise Fallson said...

Hey Chris, just stopping in, hope everything is ok on your end of the world. (: