Sunday, December 23, 2007


Conflict drives narrative, and one of the best ways to create it is through judicious use of literary arithmetic.

You start out with a vague idea for some characters--neat, round sums. But those sums are boring. They need changing. So you fiddle with the equation. Maybe you're writing speculative fiction or horror (like me), so your alterations are a little over the top. Maybe you'll add an irrepressible desire for scab picking to a pre-teen who'se just gotten a bad cut on his leg. Got a middle-aged paper pusher who's going nowhere in life? Subtract the stars from the sky and let him try to figure out what happened. Take a neuro-oncologist with a hefty patient load and multiply it by having his partner die in a car crash. While you're at it, multiply his psychological woes by having said parter mysteriously reappear after said crash. Divide a brother and sister over a potential cure from an omnipresent disease.

I've tried each of these ideas in my own stories. Some worked, some didn't. All you can do is see where your arithmetic goes.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see what happens when you subtract fire from the world ...

(Picture: CC 2007 by akirsa)

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