Exercise: CONFLICT

Find two characters and a situation that places them in conflict.  The conflict can be major and overt.  Or the conflict can be subtle.  Sometimes (indeed, often) the conflict exists just under the surface of what appears to be entirely peaceful.  

If you are using photographs, it might help you to choose one that depicts two principal people.  Or find two people within a group, whom you see as most likely to find themselves in conflict with one another.  Study the photograph.  Allow each character to whisper to you, but don't tell the other one.  Listen while you allow them informally to dialogue.  Find their conflict.  Then let their conflict unfold.  It might be just a scene.  It might lead to a full-blown story.  You might in fact discover that the real conflict isn’t between the characters at all but instead involves a conflict going on within one or both of the characters, so that their dispute can be seen as only symbolic of something much deeper.

The interesting thing that we are hoping will happen is that the conflict will require each character to reach deeper into himself or herself to act out or to speak out in a deeper seated “voice.”  It may not be an enlightened voice.  Indeed, it may well be a petty voice, but it will be more passionate, less guarded, than it would be if the character were not in conflict.  Bring us that voice – warts and all.  You might discover that what begins in biased and fiery intensity works itself out into discovery, revelation, and ultimately even wisdom.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe that is best left for the reader.

Your characters’ conflict can be external-based (conflict over territory, affection of a third person, money, position, conflict over some thing.  Each wants the something there is only one of.

Their conflict might be over how they face a common peril or obstacle -- disagreements as to strategy and tactics, or let-down and disappointment, or both

They might disagree over something -- perhaps it might even be philosophical, but whatever it is, it is important enough that their conflict affects their behavior -- when they are together, even when one of them thinks about the other.  It is not something that can be dismissed.

The conflict can be something extrinsic to what is going on in the story, some quirk that rankles them even though they are otherwise agreed or united in interest.

The conflict can be covert-internal: one of the characters is struggling with his/her better/lesser self, evil/anti-social inclinations, wrestling with indecision, grappling with a goal which may be unattainable -- while the other character knows nothing about the conflict.  Nonetheless, their communications and interactions are affected by it.  

The conflict can be overt-internal: the internal conflict of one character is known by or revealed to the other character, and they deal with it together.
It may be a character vs. character, character vs. group, character vs. nature, character vs. self or character vs. situation conflict.

The conflict can even be imaginary.  That is, it may not even exist, but through some error, one or both of the characters believe it to exist.