Friday, March 25
Violence Isn't Always the Answer: Causing Trouble Without Making Trouble
I love action. Major cliffhangers, things that go boom, protagonists in dire straits. But all action all the time can bore even a die-hard fan like me. Plots that are all about the violence can be numbing, even though “do horrible things to your characters” is advice you’ll hear all the time (heck, I’ve given it). But don’t worry. There are ways to cause trouble without resorting to violence.
Conflict = Fighting?
One common misconception about conflict is that it means fighting. It doesn’t, it just means two things in opposition. You want to take a nap after a long day, your kids want to play monopoly with you. What you want is in conflict with what they what. But this isn’t going to turn into a battle, and there’s no bad guy here. Just two sides that both want something different.
And that’s key to non-violent trouble. Different wants. Because wanting something isn’t the same as doing something violent to get it.
So, how can cause trouble if it’s not something going horribly wrong that puts your protag’s life in danger?
1. Put you protagonist in an emotional or ethical bind
Having to do something you know or believe is wrong causes a lot of trouble. It hurts, it makes you feel guilty, it causes you to overreact about something else.
2. Make them balk
He who hesitates is lost. Not acting at the right moment can cause all kinds of trouble. And then there’s that lovely guilt and second guessing you can play with later.
3. Blow their mind
Discovering something shocking that changes your worldview can send you into a tailspin. Having your world turned upside down can affect your judgment, your belief system, you very self image. When everything is off kilter, anything can happen.
4. Let them be wrong
We all make mistakes. A flawed protagonist who screws up and has to fix it is a great plot tool. The protagonist might need to win I the end, but until then, they can mess up a lot.
5. Let them be right
Have you ever lied to someone and they called your bluff? Protagonists can call bluffs too, and then cause worse trouble than if they just let it go. Embarrassing someone they’ll later need help from will cause trouble for sure.
Non-violent trouble lends itself well to the character arc and mystery of a story, because it’s not about the action. It’s about the character and what decisions they’ll make or how they’ll react to something profound. It’s not about the literary equivalent of special effects; it’s about wondering what a character will do.