Monday, March 08, 2021

Covid and Literary Conflict

 By Thomas Kies

 Two weeks ago, today, my wife and I won the lottery…sort of.  We both got our second Pfizer vaccination.  It was like this massive weight was lifted off my shoulders.  After a year of wondering if I’d catch covid-19 and end up on a ventilator in the hospital, my anxiety level dropped precipitously.

If I was of a mind to write something about the pandemic into my work in progress (which I’m not) I wonder what kind of conflict that could be defined as.  

Tonight, in my creative writing class, the participants will be reading the first few pages of their book.  I didn’t define what that might be.  I left that up to them. I’ve assigned this before in other classes and it’s usually pretty interesting.

We’ll also be discussing different types of literary conflict.  

There’s character vs. self.  This might take the form of inner demons—alcoholism, addiction, phobias.  Or it might be a moral dilemma such as: If you can’t afford food to feed your children and there were no other options, would you steal?  Is murder ever moral?  Can I have one more cookie tonight and ignore the scale in the morning?

There’s character vs. character.  This is the classic good against evil—the good guy or girl versus the bad guy or girl. With shades of moral nuance thrown in.  After all, don’t most villains think that what they do is right?  They might see their actions as being outside of the law, but it’s still the right thing to do.  It can be as powerful as a life and death battle in the climax of your book or being handed a written warning by your clueless, overbearing boss.

There’s character vs. nature.  This is where the hero battles forces like weather, wild animals, the wilderness, or a natural disaster.  Think Titanic. Think Old Man and the Sea. Think Texas after a snowstorm. 

There’s character vs. the supernatural.  This is more for authors of fantasy or horror and not so much for mystery writers.  My protagonist, Geneva Chase, doesn’t do battle with demons or zombies or ghosts. But in my first book, Random Road, Geneva rides along on a waterborne ghost hunt. 

FYI, that scene is based on a real ghost hunt I went on years ago.  The only spirits I saw that night were in the bottom of my wine glass.  

There’s character vs. technology.  I think this is more in the realm of science fiction writers, but I do understand the angst, anxiety, frustration, and rage I can feel when my internet goes out and I have to call the freaking cable company to get it back on.  

There’s character vs. society.  This can incorporate a broad spectrum of conflicts.  It could stem from race or religion.  Townies vs. the jocks on campus. It might be a character caught up in the raging fires of war. It could be me staring down an IRS audit. 

Then there’s something called passive conflict.  When the protagonist is being kept in the dark, lied to, or avoided.  Much less violent than physical conflict but can still do mental damage to a character. Much like being in high school and not being invited by the cool kids to any of their parties. 

I’m not bitter. Anymore. 

So, to circle around to the pandemic.  I guess we can slide that into character vs. nature. And I’ll be damned glad when we have all gotten vaccinated. 

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