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Relationships & Conflict in Your Writing

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Xaysai, Dec 28, 2012.

  1. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

    I read a blog by Sam Sykes today which discussed the relationship between "conflict" and "relationships" in storytelling which, maybe because I am new to writing, I thought was profound.

    One excerpt I found helpful was:

    "In Black Halo, I think I stumbled around the truth a little. I knew that fight scenes were just dialogue with fists, that there should never be a fight scene that didn’t change the conversation in some direction. I knew that relationships were what broke people, not blood or swords."

    Fight scenes were just dialogue with fists? Relationships break people, not blood or swords?

    How many of us write with this in mind?

    Thinking back on books I've read (or movies I've watched) and couldn't quite put my finger on why I've enjoyed, these ideas might exactly be why. It's not about the actions themselves, but about how they effect the characters we've come to care about.
  2. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I tend to regard my fight scenes as either hooks or complications for the main characters' attempts to win their goal, but I would welcome this alternative perspective---that is, if I had ever been in a relationship myself. Unfortunately I don't completely get the metaphor he's using.
  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I think I'm missing some kind of philosophical context here. I can pick up a bit of what he's saying, but most of it is unintelligible to me.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  4. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

    The way I understood it is this:

    At my current level of writing, I need to look at every sentence and ask myself "is every word here required?", "is every word relevant to the plot or story?" in an effort to tell the leanest (from a word clutter perspective), most impactful story.

    He is referring to more of a "metagame" of writing where we need to ask ourselves "is every scene here required?", "is every scene here relevant to the plot or story", but more importantly, "does every scene drive change?"

    I enjoy books with engaging characters. I think it's tough to create engaging characters which aren't dynamic, and the relationships/conflict are what drives that engagement. Therefore, each conflict needs to serve that purpose.
  5. danr62

    danr62 Sage


    Yep, I'm with the others.

    edit: Oh you ninja! I should have known! :ninja:
  6. When our hearts beat as one
    When my breath matches yours
    When you reach out to me, as I reach out to you
    And I feel your blood on my face, like tears
    Even as enemies, we burn that much brighter
    We burn that much brighter
    Our swords outshine the sun

    I wouldn't say I've ever thought of it exactly that way, but it does seem pretty obvious to me. Conflict without relationship is just... mindless violence, pretty much. Wether the relationship is a loving couple or two arch-nemeses locked in an epic struggle, they are both based on human emotions and that's exactly what makes them interesting to, you know, other human beings.

    One of the most beautiful relationships I have ever seen involved two warriors who tried their damnest to kill each other, completely seriously, but who still shared a very sincere and outspoken respect and admiration for one another.
  7. What he's basically saying is:

    1: Relationships are things of both peace and conflict. They can be normal or dysfunctional, loving or hating, etc. It's simply how people relate to each other.

    2: Fight scenes are more interesting when the combatants are emotionally invested and the audience are tuned into that. In that sense, a fight is a kind of relationship as well.

    Note this part:

    What the reviewer misses here is that Lenk is killing people because he has a relationship to Kataria. He's reacting this way because she means something to him, which is the whole point of all that "relationship stuff" the reviewer was complaining about. The battle is not a separate issue from Lenk and Kataria's relationship; they are very much connected.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I kinda sorta went through this thing with 'Labyrinth'. The first draft featured lots of unneeded fighting and wandering around, and not too much on the MC's family, even though he was sent to the maze at their behest. With the rewrite...

    The MC has a domineering grandfather who is determined to put another of his grandchildren on the imperial throne - over the MC's dead body, if need be.

    The MC's father is essentially a sort of sock puppet for the grandfather, though he puts on a solid aristocratic front.

    The MC, as is more or less automatic for a high ranking family, has an arranged marriage which goes from 'lack luster' to 'failed' in the opening chapters.

    And MC's family, despite being second ranked in the empire, is also deeply unpopular amongst many of the other families...which creates complications for the MC.
  9. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

    I've probably read WAY too much in this, but in a sense, conflict should be a participant in the relationship with the characters rather than just being a function of the story.

    In one part Sykes says that a character can walk away from a battle unchanged; the Dragon is slain, life returns to normal, but nobody walks away from a relationship unchanged.
  10. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    To me, fights are never about the blow by blow description. It's about the internal conflict that fight represents. The fight has to mean something emotionally to the character. Which sort of relates to the part about relationships. The interaction of characters in their relationships is what really moves a story and affects change, not sword/fist/gun fights.
  11. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I guess this is relevant to my current story after all. One of the complaints I've gotten is that I introduce three characters to fight scenes at a point where only one of them has had significant development, so there's less reader investment in the fate of the other two. (I've made some effort to characterize them through these scenes--for instance, the fascist switches with alarming ease between acting childlike and methodically eliminating every visible threat--but the viewpoint character, and by extension the reader, doesn't quite know what makes them tick until about halfway through the story.)
  12. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Relationships=battle? Mr. Sykes knows how to make thunder out of slamming opposites together, but he doesn't get down too far into showing what they mean. (Though, I'll give plenty of points to anyone who attacks the R-world as ugly.)

    I'd say his point is that any kind of connection has its dynamic changes, and it's the flow through those that matter in a story (or real life). Don't let enemies be "I just want to kill you, still," or let friends and lovers be equally static; zero in on what change really would lead to what, and make the reader care about the shift to that cold glare or how much the MC really needs the villain dead now.

    In fact: action is dialog with fists. You win a fight because your tactics and the determination behind them are better than the other guy's, and the reader should see that every back and forth of that is glimpse of character just as a war of words is.
  13. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    Action is dialogue with fists, but relationships do not have to be so defined for the conflict to carry a message. An astute reader should be able to identify and "hear" the dialogue even when the violence appears random and senseless. It is because the violence is random and senseless the event may have a greater message than one built up with foes over the length of a book.

    The acts speak of how different races, cultures, or socioeconomic groups vilify anyone on the outside. It's a social commentary rather than personal conflict. These kind of attacks are meant to make you think rather than feel.

    Of course, everything is with the caveat "if done well."
  14. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    I don't think Sykes limited his observation to romantic relationships. If you've interacted with people, ever, you've been in a relationship. You know what it is to be a son, perhaps a brother, and a friend. At some point, your loyalties have been divided, if only in the most minor of ways: do I stay home for a family dinner or go hang out with my friend who is only in town for the weekend? Domino's is running a special on one-topping pizzas, and I love mushrooms but my husband hates them. What do I do? ;)

    Those divided loyalties are at the core of relational conflicts. That can be extended from the dinner metaphor all the way through Luke Skywalker obsessing over whether he should stay on Dagobah and finish his Jedi training or go to Cloud City and rescue Han and Leia, or the whole emotional throughline with Ammar and Rodrigo in The Lions of Al-Rassan. (That's right, Scribes, y'all convinced me to read more Kay.) It covers more than jumping into battle to save the person you love, and gets down into the nitty-gritty of deciding whether a certain decision does right by people you care for and respect.
  15. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Well said. I have such a scenario in one of my WIPs -- the heroes are bound by royal command (and perhaps a binding magical contract as well) to find a fugitive princess, who is a lover to one of them and a friend to the rest, and bring her to her father to be sentenced for her crimes. If they fail, they will be punished in her stead, and all of them stand to lose everything they hold dear. Along the way they try to find a way to both save the princess and keep themselves out of danger, which is harder than any of them realize. On top of that, two of the heroes are in a rather antagonistic relationship with each other, and they have to learn to get along and trust each other for the benefit of everyone involved.
  16. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    That's good stuff! Camlann is about twin brothers who have a mutually antagonistic history. When they're physically or verbally abusing each other, it's at the expense of furthering their goals, which they might realize are exactly the same if they stopped and thought about it for a few seconds. There are some great big battles and a lot of other things going on, but the impact of all that does not (I hope!) compare with the emotional weight of the MCs' conversations, arguments, fights, and occasionally attempts to be allies.
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Good find, Xaysai. I like how he phrased his thoughts, and absolutely do try to keep this in mind when writing.
  18. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    I agree for the most part, but sometimes fights are just cool and fun besides. As someone that does fight for fun, there is quite a thrill to well-laid shots and doing things you didn't think you could before.

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