Conflict: How to get Some — The Gap

This week, I want to give a quick look at creating (external for the most part) conflict and what conflict is. Let’s look at what conflict is first. Conflict is a gap between a person’s expectations and reality, and that reality shaping itself to the negative.

Huh? I hear you say. Okay more. Humans, all of nature in fact, are conservative in our actions; we put forth exactly, as little effort as possible, as we think it will take to accomplish our goals. Only that, never more. Because to do so would constitute a waste of energy and effort.

You with me? Awesome.

So what happens when we put forth effort (minimal effort) to achieve something and the world/person/reality gives us a reaction we did not expect and more so its negative? We make a new plan. We put out more effort. We push back and try again. If the goal is really important to us we’ve been known to go to amazing effort.

An example, I hear you cry… okay. Let’s take something simple.

Initial want/goal:I want a glass of water.

Thirsty, ya know. So I go to the cupboard grab a cup and put it under the faucet and turn on the tap (minimal effort based on my expectation that when I turn on the tap potable water will flow) but the universe is going to throw me a curve ball. Instead of clear tap water what comes out is viscous brown sludge (gap). What the frack says I.

I must know adjust my perceptions to this new reality; I’m still thirsty so I must make a continued effort (again minimal) to get something to drink, so I make a new plan. I’ll go to my fridge and get a glass of milk, not the water I was originally after but still nummy. I open the fridge door and the first hint that reality isn’t what I expect is that the little light doesn’t come on. I grab the milk and it’s warm. Crap. I open the lid and sniff. Eww. Sour (my expectation is not met again and another gap is created, readjust). I think about pouring it down the drain but then realize that I can’t really rinse away the smell with the brown sludge so I put the lid back on and tuck the jug back into the door of the fridge.

Mouth is really dry now, still need that drink, so I consider my options I can ask a neighbor, or go to the store and buy some. I’m thinking since the plumbing is all mucked up and I don’t know how long it’ll be ‘til my plumber guy can get out to my house and I can’t run to the neighbors every hour or two for agua that I should opt for the store root. I grab my purse and car keys and head over to the store. When I get there the parking lot is jammed full (gap readjust). Damn, I think, all I want it a couple jugs of water; I’m gonna have to stand in line forever. I walk in and it’s complete pandemonium (gap readjust).

There are two hundred people with carts running around and ramming into each other and sweeping armfuls of groceries into their carts(gap readjust). I grab someone by the arm. What’s happened? What’s going on? Terrorists have bombed the utilities all over the US simultaneously (gap readjust). HOLY sh*t. I run for the water isle. I have dh and three smalls to think of. All the soda and all but two jugs of water are gone and there are four of us heading for the water. A large man gets there before I do and snatches them (gap readjust) the others turn away but I don’t, I can’t. Oh no you don’t. I reach into my purse and grab my pepper spray and spray it into his eyes. He drops the jugs and screams, takes a swipe at me but I’ve ducked to pick up the water. I scurry away with the two jugs and bolt out of the store. I don’t pay. I sprint for the car….

Okay, that’s enough. Now the gaps can open up in three different areas. Inner conflicts, personal conflicts and external. External, me against the man to get the water. Personal me against my brother to get the water. Internal conflict? Say I have a well, do I barter with the water we have or do I share with my friends and neighbors? Next week, we’ll look at internal conflict in more depth.

This gap between expectation and reality is how you move a story forward with conflict and tension. Your story momentum will build itself if you just keep after the goal. Watch though, often goals can and do change.

What story gap (book, TV or Film) most surprised you?

*This month’s lesson inspired by reading Story by Robert McKee.