Something has to happen in a story – otherwise there isn’t really a story at all! There needs to be a shift, a beginning and an ending. So, in stories there is usually a central conflict that builds to a climax and then is resolved at the end of the story.
There are many different kinds of conflict in stories (and the world): there is internal conflict, when someone is grappling inside themselves, conflict between characters, a character’s conflict with society itself, conflict with nature, or technology, or even the supernatural.
We are going to focus on conflict between individuals.
Conflicts between people can be about major things like betrayal in a relationship or minor things like dirty dishes… (sometimes these smaller conflicts are indicative/reflect/hint at greater problems between characters that are unspoken).
Read these two extracts to see how writers convey relationships and conflicts through dialogue and some description.
Extract one: From Double Trouble by Agnes Kimberley
Thandi swung her school bag over her shoulder as she walked the last few steps to her home. When she reached the door she stopped and listened. She could hear the sound of her gogo crying. Her sister Babalwa was yelling at the older woman. Thandi could hardly believe what her twin sister was saying to Gogo, who was very old, and nearly blind. She had been taking care of the girls since they were babies.
“I don’t know how you expect me to eat this food!”
Thandi stood quietly at the door and looked at her sister in dismay.
“Why can’t we have some decent food in this house for a change?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the food, Babalwa,” said Gogo, trying to coax her to eat something. “It’s a perfectly good stew and there’s lots of meat and nice vegetables in it.”
“I hate stew!” Babalwa lifted her plate and threw her lunch in the dustbin. “I’m hungry, Gogo. Now make me a sandwich.”
“Oh, Babalwa,” Gogo moaned, but she got up and began taking the bread out of the bread bin.
“And stop calling me Babalwa!” Babalwa yelled at her Gogo again. “My name is Thandi. Surely you must know the difference between the two of us?”
Gogo nodded her head slowly. Lately Babalwa had been trying to convince everybody that she was Thandi. It was as if she was ashamed at the way she was behaving. But she kept on behaving badly anyway.
We can see in this short extract dialogue above that the conflict is about more than just the stew..! This conflict scene shows that there is something going on with Babalwa. (You can read the whole story here.)
Extract two: Yesterday’s News by Jenny Robson
Nineteenth of February 2007! I can remember that Monday like it was yesterday. But I was only twelve then. So I didn’t really understand.
My father shouted in the kitchen, “What do you mean, I must go to the Clinic? What are you saying? That I have maybe got this thing too? That I am the one who gave it to you? Are you accusing me?”
I was sitting on my bed, trying to do my homework. But how could I concentrate?
I heard my mother’s soft voice. “The Sister said so. This is important. You need to test then they can help you too.”
“Don’t talk to me about tests! I am fine, I am telling you! Do I ever stay home sick from work? Even one day? No! So don’t tell me I must go to that Outreach place!”
“Yes. But the Sister said, even if you are well, it is necessary. It is important for you to know for sure.”
There was a loud crash. I knew the sound: my father’s fist smashing down on the kitchen table.
“If you have this thing, it is not from me. You understand? If you have this thing it is because you were with some other man. Cheating! Catching diseases from outside and bringing them into our home!”
I could feel my hands tightening up into fists. But I was only twelve. And he was my father. So what could I do?
“And how long have there been other men? Since before our son was born? Then how do I know he is my son?”
There was another crash. I knew that sound too: the kitchen door was slamming shut. I made my mother sweet tea that night also. Six spoons of sugar. I gave it to her while she wept at the kitchen table. Five years ago.
I never saw my father again. Except once at a taxi rank, but he was with another woman. He pretended he didn’t recognise me.
This short scene shows a lot about the all characters involved. (You can read the whole story here.)
Read other stories on this mobi site and notice how writers conveyed conflict and character.