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Exercise: Torn

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Florence Cardinal
Posted on: Sun, 18 Nov 2001
Reposted on: Sat, 13 Nov 2004
Reposted on: Sun, 23 Oct 2005

We have all seen the lists of basic types of story conflict: person versus person, person versus nature, and so on. This exercise deals with person versus self - with inner conflict.

Sometimes, when we are writing (or reading) we can plainly see the motivation for a character's behavior. However, often that motivation is only the obvious one. Below that, perhaps going back to something in the character's past, or even something he or she only imagines, is the real reason for the conflict.

Here are a couple of ideas Rhéal suggested:

The child facing a dare is torn between fear (including fear of looking like a coward), pride, and the desire to fit in.. That dragon is scary and dangerous, but the question is: will the knight attack, or chicken out?

This is similar to the exercise you all did in July. In fact, the above is almost exactly what was posted for that exercise. Although that turned out to be an interesting and worthwhile exercise, the sumissions weren't what Rhéal and I intended when we came up with it - most of the subs dealt with a divergence between professed and actual goals. We were thinking more along the lines of two (or more) motivations being in conflict.

We were looking for someone with mixed motivations - one submission that met the criteria was the child who wanted to please his buddies by bringing them one of his mother's pies, but didn't want to disappoint his mother by stealing it.

What we are looking for this time is the conflict faced by someone who has two, or even more, well defined but incompatible goals, like the mother who wants to stay at home with her children, maybe also feels compelled to care for an ailing parent, but also has the desire to return to a full-time job. Or the young man who doesn't want to disappoint his buddies by not accompanying them on a mountain climbing expedition but has a paralyzing fear of heights. Maybe also a chance for a date with the prettiest girl in class, as well.

This week's exercise: In less than 500 words, show us how your character's behavior is influenced by having two conflicting goals. Your protagonist can have more than two goals if you are ambitious, but there must be at least two.

Florence Cardinal's wrap-up

This went much better than the previous exercise. Almost everyone managed to include at least two goals for their character. In a few cases, it was obvious that the character had already decided what he or she was going to do, although they still seemed to be mumbling and grumbling about it. But most had the obvious push-pull of two or more distinct paths to follow.

This is actually the basis of most fiction - more than one goal, whether those two goals are embodied in on person as we had in this exercise, or whether they are the goals of two people - as in a romance novel where there are actually several "goals." There is, of course, the chemical reaction between your heroine and hero, the push and pull of love and desire, but the goal of finding love is thwarted because the hero and heroine have opposing goals besides the love angle, and that conflict must be solved before the romance can run smoothly.

Examine any short story or book and see if you can discover what is causing the conflict.

Anyway, a good exercise and a good balance of subs and crits. Best of luck with this week's challenge.


Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Fri, 26 Nov 2004

The submissions to this run of the Torn exercise seemed especially well focused including well-developed conflicts and strong characters.

The best submissions this time left readers wanting the stories expanded so they could find out more about the conflicts that were established. Some critiquers mentioned the use of present time as helpful in clarifying the details of the conflict. Honesty within the conflict made for believable story lines and held readers' interest. Strong story beginnings established interest, encouraging readers to continue. Showing instead of merely telling aided the conflict.

For next time developing secondary characters and their conflict will make for a stronger story. Elimination of irrelevant details and story lines and concentration on the main ones may help make a stronger conflict, drawing readers in further.

To summarize, perhaps good conflict produces strong characters, as many of these stories produced. Thanks for submitting to the exercise, and keep on practicing!

Patricia L. Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.