Saturday, March 7, 2009

Not Adverse to a Little Conflict

adversary--a front-rank character whose agenda and/or interests directly conflicts with that of another front-rank character; an opponent in a story.

Just as characters with goals provide the catalyst for story, so too are stories propelled by individuals adverse to their goals and intentions. Often resting between these two sides is The Prize, the status or power or reward striven for by each. Cowboys and Indians, Indians and the cavalry, Earthlings and Extraterrestrials, cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers,rural and urban, the youthful and the elderly,laborers and management; all these and additional pairings have the potential for good relationships, which is splendid in real life but rather dull in fiction. Readers enjoy the potentials for rivalry; they expect rivalry blossomed into adversarial relationship when they pick up a story.

Even if the primary character is going up against a philosophical or social clash, both sides of the argument must be rendered with a human representative. Walter Scott's Ivanhoe presented the clash of cultures between the Saxons and their invaders, the Normans, which was indeed adversarial enough, but Scott appropriately heeded the need to have representatives of each opposing force on stage, if only to glower at one another. If the clash involves addiction, the adverse position--failure to quit the addiction--must be demonstrated. If the clash involves two or more contestants of notable analytic, artistic, or even athletic ability, the adversarial position must be represented as some competition among candidates for a position, say surgery resident, tenure track professor of history, artistic endowment recipient. If the clash involves Man and Nature, both sides must have representatives, easier to demonstrate in the adversarial relationship between Capt. Ahab and The Great White Whale, but not how, even there, Melville left a human survivor, Ishmael, to tell the story of the clash and to interpret its outcome. When encounters between individuals and a particular culture or zeitgeist are concerned, it is less problematic to have characters representing the opposing forces.

The most effective way to produce an adversary for a front-rank character is to produce a character who is at least one way has an admirable ability. The more effective and seemingly invincible the adversary, the greater the likelihood of the protagonist's ultimate victory seem convincing and satisfying. It will appear to the reader that the deck has been stacked if one of the contestants is, however skilled, evil personified while the other is Sir Galahad writ large.

family--a group of consanguineous individuals; a single- or multi-generational unit of relatives; a non-consanguineous group who have some connective association such as an alumni group, members of a religious group, longtime members of the same work group, a heterosexual or homosexual group who have formed live-in partnerships.

A family may be whatever a group of individuals define the group's boundaries. To have legal validity, a group must meet state, tribal, or national conditions, which immediately becomes story material given the arbitrary nature of conditions. Families are, for better or worse, gatherings of individuals who know one another's strengths and weaknesses, who may know secrets or be blind to their potential. Family is a Petri dish for story, the mold of agenda, intent, control, and tradition proliferating at every gathering of the clan. Happy families may be all alike, if one could only find them somewhere within every family is an unhappiness that influences behavior and tradition, dictates who from the outside may enter, and what the consequences are of undesirables trying to marry their way in. Even families that affect a patina of happiness and closeness have somewhere within their history an attitude that leads to a substantial story.

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