Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Conflict and character development are forever conjoined

by Derek Spencer

Author Alan Sitomer is writing blog posts every day in November to help writers participating in NaNoWriMo. Today, he offers some insight into why conflict is central to any novel. Check it out here:

There's some great writing advice in this post, but I want to point out one outstanding paragraph that applies equally to reading and evaluating literature:

Basically all novels are, at the end of the day, about one thing: character and plot. Okay, that’s two things but they are so closely tied together in terms of importance, it’s better to simply view them as one single, two-headed monster. Luckily for us writers, each side of the head thrives on conflict. Plots are driven by it and character is revealed by it.

Plots are driven by conflict, and character is revealed by conflict. The way a character responds to a conflict reveals more information about that character, contributing to character development and potentially setting up future conflicts or character development.

When students recognize how conflict can contribute to character development, they're better equipped to evaluate how well the author handles these elements in a given text. A couple of questions students might want to ask themselves while reading a text:

  • Is a character's reaction to a conflict proportionate to the conflict, given what we know about the character? And if the character reacts in an uncharacteristic way, does the text justify this reaction?
  • Is the character development spurred by a conflict plausible, or does it seem to have been shoehorned in by the author?

Thinking about questions like these and examining why authors make the choices they do is an essential step toward evaluating texts not just as stories but as works of literature.

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