Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Conflict or Tension?

The wisdom of Ralph Fletcher was so well received yesterday, that I thought I'd share a bit more today. Another of my favorite bits of advice from What a Writer Needs deals with conflict. But that isn't what Ralph likes to call it.



I prefer "tension" to "conflict" because the term seems more inclusive. It would be hard to define a clear conflict in Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came. Yet there is a kind of tension that slowly builds as the story progresses: the pull of home. The relatives keep thinking of their grapes, back home, nearly purple enough to eat. That insistent tugging of home, the fact that the relatives cannot stay forever but must finally go back to their own beds several states away, lends a poignancy to the book. The reader feels a gentle sadness as the relatives drive away.

Tension might be thought of as resistance. Some writers create this resistance through language, in the writing itself, through the voice in which the piece gets written.
I love the way he approaches story conflict - that it is really just tension at its core. Mentally, I feel much more comfortable with my ability to create tension than with my mastery of conflict. Is there a major difference? No. Does it feel like there is to me? Yes. And that is enough. The idea of creating "tension" instead of "conflict" makes me feel lighter, more capable. For additional examples, see Chapter 9 of What a Writer Needs.

What do you think - conflict or tension?

P.S. Tune in tomorrow for a special international contest giveaway opportunity. You won't want to miss it!

29 comments:

Diane said...

I am all for the tension. A perfect example of this for me was Dangerous Liasons with Glenn Close. Loved it! :O)

Candyland said...

Tension!!! Great post!

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm liking these posts. I think I should really pick up this book!

Lydia Kang said...

Tension is so important. Different levels of tension throughout, but you need it to drive the book forward, IMO.
Great post!

Valerie Geary said...

I usually say tension instead of conflict. The word tension just fits better... you can have dark tension, awkward tension, sexual tension, humorous tension, scary tension, angry tension.... but if you put conflict after those words instead of tension, it seems to change the context. So... I'm all about tension. Pull that noose tighter!

storyqueen said...

I had forgotten about this bit....thanks for the reminder. Again....Ralph is the best.

Shelley

WindyA said...

Tension. All the way. Conflict is necessary too, I think, but not the way tension is, and not to the same extent. Thanks for sharing!

Elaine AM Smith said...

Tension. Especially when I'm not sure where it is coming from and it unfolds as the scene goes on.

Jemi Fraser said...

I prefer tension too - it just builds so nicely!

Jennifer Shirk said...

I like tension too--especially romantic tension. LOL

Tere Kirkland said...

I think the term tension is better because people seem to associate conflict with action. But tension is more subtle.

Great post!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I like tension. I just did two revisions to amp the tension in my novel- the conflict is certainly there, but now the tension pulls the reader along throughout the story.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I agree completely. I feel like tension is what makes you turn the page. You can have a main conflict or a bunch of scattered conflicts but the tension is in how your characters deal with them and with the other characters. great post!

Jamie D. said...

For me, conflict is fleeting. There's a beginning and an end, and it needs to be resolved. Whereas tension is enduring, and can still be useful and evident even in the last scene of a story. So they're different things to me...I love tension, and make a point of drawing it through my stories as tightly as possible, woven in and around the conflicts that make up the plot.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I think tension is just the right word. We feel tension inside of good relationships and bad ones. We feel tension from a situation or the weather. Good examples.

Carolyn V. said...

I love that! I seem to always lump tension and conflict together. This makes me think. =)

Shelley Sly said...

For me, it depends on the genre. I mostly prefer tension -- and mostly write books that have more tension than conflict -- but lately as I've been reading more middle grade books, I've been enjoying conflict-driven stories. Great topic!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I agree, tension is so much better. Conflict is a blip, tension bubbles under the surface.
International contest! Whoo, that's me. lol.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

TENSION! Love this post!

Slamdunk said...

I've never considered the difference, but tension seems more manageable with less of a negative connotation than conflict.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Seems like every one agrees that tension is the winner. I value both. I love a good scene with conflict and an undertow of tension. :)

Al said...

How about tension building towards conflict?
They both have their place

Cleverly Inked said...

Why not both?

Roxane B. Salonen said...

My vote is for tension, unless the tension has conflict in it. But conflict reminds me too much of my kids fighting, and I'm trying to get away from that right now. :) Great tip! Amazing what a small change in words can do for the mind, huh?

Solvang Sherrie said...

Definitely tension. One of my Donald Maas books says you need tension on every page. Not sure if I succeed at that, but it's a goal!

Patti Lacy said...

Hmmm. I still say BOTH! LOL.
Ordered his book.
Natasha LOVED the quote!!

P
www.pattilacy.com/blog

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I LOVE tension.

Heather said...

I have to agree with you that tension is more all inclusive than conflict and I lean toward using that term instead. Brilliant insight though!

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