How to simplify a conflict diagram to make it more powerful

The thing about Conflict Diagrams is that you can do them in more than one way. Here’s a first stab at an “odd couple” romance:

Romance 1

Lots of Bones of Contention — the jagged boxes. However, it’s hard to see the potential story here — this could just be subjects for sitcom episodes!

Look again. Can’t we turn it inside out? Like this, perhaps?

Romance 2

Simpler, but at the same time easier to see the story emerge. What I’ve done is treat the couple themselves as  Bone of Contention — what are the forces struggling to define the couple? We only need to know the start conditions, so there’s no need to put in the couple’s strengths; we’ll discover these.

Even so, the story needs a theme — a big conflict playing out. To get that, we need more detail… which is already in my head, or would be if this were my story (actually, it’s a twisted version of something a friend is working on) and thus some thematic forces:

Romance 3So now we have big forces at work, the mythic CHAOS vs ORDER, and then DOMESTICITY and SECURITY CLEARANCE also chipping away at the relationship.

Only one more thing remains — to personify some of these forces:

Romance 4

Actually, I read somewhere that in Romantic comedies, one or both characters should have an inconvenient secret. So that needs to go in there somewhere…. it would be nice if it fitted the themes:

Romance 5

Now that looks more interesting!

EDIT: A friend of mine commented:

…there’s no way the title’s accurate: you went from 2 nodes and 4 links in the first draft to 12 nodes and “I stopped counting” links in the final draft. Simplicity? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

For me it feels simpler because it has four abstract forces driving it:

Romance Marked Up

All the other relationships — apart from her secret — emerge from these four.

The take-home is:

  1. Experiment with turning your diagram inside out.
  2. You only need to capture the start conditions, not the story.
  3. The thematic forces give you the details, or the other way around.
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Posted in Outlining, Uncategorized, Writing Tips
2 comments on “How to simplify a conflict diagram to make it more powerful
  1. Geoff Hart says:

    Cool story, bro. *G* However, there’s no way the title’s accurate: you went from 2 nodes and 4 links in the first draft to 12 nodes and “I stopped counting” links in the final draft. Simplicity? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    I think what’s far more interesting and useful is the thought process you illustrate here: providing increasingly specific descriptions of individual nodes and focusing on key points that have direct hooks into the story.

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