Conflict is Nothing if Not Flexible / 4 Parts is Only a Compass
Where I asked, when was the last difficult encounter you can remember having with the family member you wrote about, what was your answer to what was it about? Categorize that answer in some generic way: who owns what and didn’t say they’d loan it; who is taking advantage of another’s good nature; who said they would and then didn’t, or vice versa
Conflict is Nothing if Not Flexible:
Where I asked, when was the last difficult encounter you can remember having with the family member you wrote about, what was your answer to what was it about? Categorize that answer in some generic way: who owns what and didn’t say they’d loan it; who is taking advantage of another’s good nature; who said they would and then didn’t, or vice versa.
Now make these two characters college roommates of a week’s duration and put them in a similar argument. Just the dialogue is fine.
Okay, now make them complete strangers and put them in a shopping environment. And when you’ve got an argument going, let one of them recognize the other from fourth grade. Do I need to tell you to keep going from there? Bet not.
Then put them at a cocktail party, one is divorced, the other still married. Or let their kids be graduating together. Or let it be they are in-laws and there is an old pocket watch to be inherited. Or two siblings who don’t speak are sharing a car after a much-loved family member’s funeral, or one of you is a plumber and the other one has a pipe break in the middle of a cold winter night, or you show up at a restaurant and find someone with the same name has usurped your reservation—guess who. Go ahead, go at it tooth and nail. You might find you can write five pages or so on that head of steam.
Don’t be afraid to be a bad guy in one of these scenarios. It’s pen and paper, soon to be ash if you choose. If you aren’t writing, I guarantee you aren’t really getting this. Conflict is emotional, not intellectual.
4 Parts is Only a Compass:
Some stories suggest their own patterns, telling patterns. Anne Tyler’s Accidental Tourist, for instance, is a book made up almost entirely of interiors—houses and autos. The most lengthy outdoor scenes are with the dog trainer, probably an instinctive choice on Ann Tyler’s part, since the trainer frees Macon up. But perhaps I’m not giving her enough credit; she uses metaphors in layers in all of her work, and chances are she’s using them knowledgeably, as well as artfully, and yes, sometimes unknowingly.
For me, it would have been a lucky accident.
So now, as you write, you’re letting the four part pattern guide you. You’re letting it pace the narrative, you’re following a map, and it helps to have a map.
Not quite convinced?
Consider being thirty pages into writing your story, and you don’t have the security of additional pages and the actual end point of a finished manuscript. You’re staring down open road. But if you’re writing with the four part framework in mind, you have road signs.
You’re watching for the turning points, and you know now what it means that turning points showed up on page 28, and then on page 35: probably you’re shortchanging the second part. Or you’ve overwritten the first part.
If they show up on pages 14 and 28 and 42 and 52—guess what! You probably have a perfectly good first draft that needs fleshing out with more attention to the revelations that come with endings.
You need to look at what is expected of each part and compare it to what you’ve written. Soon you’ll be pacing your storyline, knowing when you have the number of events you need, and how to shape those events so they take the story in the direction you want it to go. Because somewhere in the midst of watching for indicators, you do figure out where you want it to go. You won’t be driving blind for the entire distance.
I say this with confidence, even though I find some work is better viewed as six parts, and twelve. Writers are individuals and we have an inner knowing, even as beginners, of the path we are stumbling along on.
You work with the four parts in mind, trying to deliver the elements needed, but don’t worry overmuch about it. Just keep writing.