How does this ‘conflict, not goals’ thing work anyway?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently I wrote a post about character needing conflict, not goals. I received a great question from a reader via email and thought I’d post it – and the response – here so that you can all get some additional insight and join the conversation.

(Note: story details from the question have been removed – but don’t worry, it doesn’t affect the response)

QUESTION:

 

OHHHH MAII GAWD

So, I read that article like a thousand times over, and I’m trying to get in the mindset of thinking this way.

But I’m hitting a wall.

I keep thinking Goal oriented.

Should I just think of a character and give her problems to solve which will in return create a goal?

 

 

REPLY:

 

Hey! Thanks for reaching out.

Yeah, it can be tricky to change your mindset when the ‘every scene needs a goal’ advice is so prevalent. The way I like to think about it is this:

In Act 1, your character is just living (or trying to live) their normal life, even though external problems/forces are starting to disrupt things (to various degrees of success) until…

Act 2A, where your character is finally engaging with this external problem/force but hasn’t really changed who they are (i.e. hasn’t changed their habits/mindset/normal way of approaching things and hasn’t undergone any real personal growth and change) and they aren’t really being proactive, just reacting to things,  until…

The midpoint/reversal throws them into Act 2B and then they start being proactive and drawing on the new skills, resources, mindset, allies, etc they have accumulated on the way. They start approaching things from a new perspective and understanding (even if it’s still early days and they’re only just learning how to use them).

So – that said – it’s hard to give your character goals in Act 1 and Act 2A, because those two acts are really about avoidance of/denial of/disinterest in/inability to engage with the emerging problem (Act 1) and reactive efforts to just survive (Act 2A).

For those two acts that make up the first half of your book, I find it easier to focus less on ‘goals’ and more on ‘conflict’.

Conflict can be problems, obstacles, challenges, physical altercations, arguments – anything that puts the character out of their comfort zone and demands they respond.

So, going back to your story example  – in the first act, ask what conflict is removing your MC from her comfort zone and forcing her out of her normal routine? Don’t worry about giving her scene goals – use the assumption that, in the first act, every scene’s goal is to avoid the problem.

In Act 2A, ask yourself how would ‘normal’ MC deal with the new environment/situation she finds herself in? And then put in her way things that challenge that old way of dealing. If she was always able to defeat her foes by drawing on a magic power, make that power not effective anymore. Or give her antagonists that know how to beat it. Keep putting conflicts in her way that limit her ability to draw on her old way of doing things and force her to grow as a character so that in Act 2B she has to grow and change in order to succeed.

I hope that helps!

 

What about you? Do you also struggle switching your mindset from goals to conflict? Or do you have your own perspective on this paradigm shift that can help our reader/author?

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How does this ‘conflict, not goals’ thing work anyway?

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