Saturday, March 5, 2011

Conflict in Fiction: Freaky Friday vs Freaky Friday

Personally, I'm not big on conflict. I tend to let the hard things lie a bit too long, talk about them only after the anger (or annoyance) has pretty much dissipated. This workswell. Dan and I hardly ever argue. Life is good.

But while avoiding conflict may be a great real-life strategy, it doesn't work on paper.

I have to fight my peace-maker impulses to create a compelling story. For example, in my first (and second and third) draft of Family, Genius, Species, I wrote about the break-up of my main characters from the point of view of someone listening behind a closed bathroom door. There was no dialogue, just the blah blah blah of angry-sounding words. My eavesdropping character emerged from the bathroom to find that a "dumping" had occurred (okay, I didn't mean to use a pun, but this is sort of funny so I'm leaving it.)

Not so dramatic really.

This week my eleven year old had the stomach flu. She flopped on the couch with her barf bucket watching Food Network (no joke) and Spongebob (don't get me started on how much I hate Spongebob...) until I dug up an old DVD of Freaky Friday, the new version, which she totally loved.

I didn't watch it with her, but I heard much of it from the next room and it got me thinking about conflict in fiction.

First off, let me say I have fond memories of the original Freaky Friday.

It was released in 1976, the same shaggy-dog year as my character, Roger "Zorro" Weitz's big hit. The movie was huge that year and I remember quite clearly standing in around-the-block lines to buy tickets for it at least three times over. In retrospect of course, Friday is terribly dated. (The daughter's main challenge is dealing with her homemaker mother's oh-so-difficult life of appliance repair people, grocery delivery boys and new curtain selection.)

But more importantly, from a writing perspective: It totally avoided the main conflict. The switched mother and daughter never (to my memory) see each other in their switched bodies or attempt to solve anything. This is an opportunity lost. The whole movie, to my grown up writer's sensibility, is anemic, episodic, a series of little conflicts, while the big one-- the one that could be really interesting-- is left untouched.

The newer version isn't having any of that. It goes right into the conflict: Mother and daughter in the same room, trying to switch back. This is rich dramatic territory, and funny too.

I imagine it was kind of scary to write this scene. So many things could have gone wrong. Too much dialogue, and drama could leach from it like helium from a slow-leaking balloon.

But here's what the 2003 movie makers knew: ya just HAVE TO do it anyway. If it doesn't work, try it again, and again.

Who knew Freaky Friday was educational?

In my current re-write, that argument will happen right there on the pages.

How do your personal preferences and style affect your fiction writing?


Laura Campbell said...

I to avoid conflict often. My communication skills go on hiatus when I'm angry, so to prevent saying something I'll regret, I don't say anything at all.

The novel I wrote needs more conflict. More character vs. character to really increase the drama in the murder mystery. I have a lot of revising to do.

The second novel I write, I know my approach will include everything I didn't do or did ineffectively to avoid serious rewrites.

One piece of advice I received somewhere along the way was to make sure your character needs something on every page. Even if it's just a glass of water. The act of needing and satisfying the need creates less dramatic conflict, but conflict all the same.

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Hi, Perri! Interesting post! In real life, I avoid conflict like the plague, but in my fiction, I seek it out. Conflict is essential to pacing and I try to escalate it as the novel progresses. Great blog :D