Peggy Bechko: Thrill Obsessed


by Peggy Bechko

Are we thrill obsessed? Well, yeah, kinda. Oh, heck, admit it, we are. As writers we’re even more aware of it than average.

You don’t think so?

How about this? Notice most stories we tell end when the good guy wins, when the hero marries the heroine, when the dragon is slain (literally or figuratively). Lots of people run around and do lots of stuff before that happens. There’s movement, action of some type. As writers we don’t pay much attention to the quiet times, the things people do every day like sitting on the couch reading or walking the dog or fixing dinner – at least not unless it’s a precursor to more action. That stuff would create major yawns in readers or watchers of movies or TV shows.

We’re kind of twisted when you think about it. We crave the danger, conflict, high adrenalin rush situations and in reality they can be terrifying, unsettling, life-changing and when in that reality the danger is past and we’ve managed to survive, we want nothing more than to go home and ‘get back to normal’. Yet in that normalcy what do we talk about? Yep, the exciting times. We pick out from our life’s history the times that make the blood rush and the heart pump faster. That’s how we are even if we’d rather be different.

Why? I’m sure there’s some convoluted psychological reason, but I sure don’t know what it is. Maybe a left-over from our ancient past where survival alone was an every day task. Humanity is a strange lot, even if we enjoy the lives we live now it’s plain that conflict and confrontations are the underpinnings of storytelling. Our escape back into adventure.

You may be a serious conflict-avoidance character in your own life but don’t let your characters in your stories go there.

Good writing will allow you to create convincing conflict and let your characters go at it.

Conflict is everywhere.

There’s conflict with an enemy. It can be a murderer, a storm or even a monster. Going this route creates a kind of conflict within your writing where the stakes are amazingly high (think Godzilla stomping a city or a serial murderer on his tenth victim). This kind of thing will usually end in a fight to the death or at the very least to the point where the enemy slinks off into the sunset (possibly to return in a sequel!). On the psychological side writing such a tale can give the writer the chance to create a character who can fight and kill – and all without carrying around a lot of guilt afterwards. Guilt is no fun and the hero, after winning, while perhaps not ‘having fun’ can at least feel proud of what he’s accomplished and uplifted by his success despite the perhaps bloody end of his adversary.

Another type of conflict is that with a powerful organization. Joe vs. the corporation. Or Joe vs. City Hall or the Mob. A frequent turn or story revolves around a character starting out as a part of that organization, but for his own reasons (hopefully good and moral ones) turns against it. Maybe his boss/superior/ supervisor/ leader turns out to be evil. Now he has a problem! Or maybe it’s the opposite and the organization turns against him.

There’s also conflict with the society the main character of your novel or script lives in. Maybe he just doesn’t fit in. A misfit. Think for a moment, you’ll come up with lots of examples of that in film and books.

There can be conflict with a friend or lover. Conflict with a child or a parent. This creates tension since that conflict is between the hero and someone he loves. The parent/child relationship is complicated whichever way it spins.

Even conflict with himself is frequently the basis of a strong story. Should Joe leave his small town and go to the big city to pursue his dreams? Should he marry someone his parents and friends all disapprove of? Can he kick his cocaine addition or alcohol abuse? Is Joe suffering from mental illness of the sort that spins him off to do strange, uncontrollable things?

Conflict is complicated and it’s important the writer keep the conflict consistent with the characters he or she’s written into life. Think about the characters traits and see if he would really do the things you want him to do. If not change the character or the conflict. That simple.

And you can have major conflicts as well as minor ones. Minor ones add even more depth to the writing.

The whole idea is that conflict creates tension in the story, flings the plot forward by giving the reader or watcher tidbits to puzzle over. If you’re a good storyteller that reader or watcher isn’t going to know how things will resolve, who will ‘win’. Even in a genre where the end is pretty much expected (romance=lovers end up together; murder mystery=murderer is caught; monster movie=monster killed) which direction you take the story in and how the conflicts are resolved are the entertaining elements.

Play with conflict. Keep it interesting and the result will be an entertaining, gripping story.

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.