Tips for Writers: The Intersection of Conflict and Play

Children PlayingPhoto by Monstera on

Guest Blog by Give Me Pen and Paper

This is the first time I’ve posted another writer in my Tips for Writers series, but I really wanted to share these insights by Abe Austin of Give me Pen and Paper with you.

Vectors: In mathematics we learn that one vector defines a single-dimensional space. Two vectors, however, can define a two-dimensional space: field, a landscape, an infinite blanket of ideas. And with three vectors we get a three-dimensional volume. Length and width are joined by depth, form and figure emerge, a complex structure that has to be considered from different perspectives to understand the whole.

This principle holds true when developing a story, as well. The genesis of most stories occurs when the writer’s mind finds an interesting connection of different vectors. Ideas that had seemed unrelated show a surprise connection, and as the mind explores that space it concocts a story to aid in the process. And like turning the knobs on a faucet we are free to crank one of the core ideas up and dial the other back, to leave one out entirely and then gradually introduce it to full force, each combination has its own potential. Notice how many story pitches are delivered in exactly this way: describing the intersection between different ideas.

  • “A romantic comedy, but one of the characters is blind and the other is deaf.”
  • “A classic Western, but it takes place in space!”
  • “The story is 1980s America, but if the Cold War had escalated to actual combat.”

Through these combinations we find a field of discovery. In fact, my most recent stories have all been ways to explore the same three ideas’ intersection on the themes of children, conflict, and play.

It’s an interesting question why we find pretended conflict to be so entertaining, and there are all sorts of theories that have already been posited on the matter. For now let’s just accept the fact that we do. Our stories, even our happy stories, are almost always centered around this idea of opposition and conflict. But if we do intend to keep the conflict “fun,” we have to disassociate it from reality.

As it turns out, there have been many tales that have already explored this same intersection of children, conflict, and play. It is the template that C. S. Lewis popularized with his Chronicles of Narnia series. Consider the first entry, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the children have a conflict with a magical queen, but also a more grounded feud between the quarreling siblings. And though there is great danger in that tale, one cannot help but feel a sense of playfulness in how the children are able to explore such a fantastic realm.

It is also the template of Peter Pan, where siblings again intermingle their squabbles with the life-or-death conflict with Captain Hook. It is Harry Potter having a spat with Ron Weasley, while also being hunted by the murderous Lord Voldemort, while also uncovering the magical world of witches and wizards…

To read the rest of this post, and others, by Abe Austin, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Quips and Quotes, Story Power, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Tips for Writers: The Intersection of Conflict and Play

  1. Fascinating, especially since I’m working with nonfiction and attempting to think through things as a novelist might. It’s so exciting to “discover” a theme I hadn’t noticed before, even a story arc when I wasn’t expecting one. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. revruss1220 says:

    Excellent guidance! Thanks fir sharing his work with us, Mitch. I love to write, but having never really dabbled in the realm of fiction I need all the help I can get.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love Alone says:

    Reblogged this on Love and Love Alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love that you used The Chronicles of Narnia as an example. Lewis does such a good job of making it real – from the conflicts in the relationships between the siblings to being aware of how long it had been since they’d eaten. (And there were conflicts over whether to stop and eat or keep going!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Mitch. I already figured out that using a story to get one’s point across is more compelling than just sharing information. I hadn’t thought about the vectors angle, though.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hetty Eliot says:

    Great advice. For some reason, life is conflict, and showing others how seeming unrelated things connect in unexpected ways can help other people figure out the chaos in their own lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great little, compact, extrememly helpful post. I personally need to really digest this.

    Liked by 2 people

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