One of the main tenets of drama is conflict. In real life getting what you want without fuss or bother is seen as a win. In fiction, it’s a loss (for the reader).
A common approach in stories by aspiring writers is the near-miss. This is where a character is faced by a problem, one that they know is coming, so they take steps to be ready for it. The build-up is all there. And then the problem disappears. Either they were mistaken, or they weren’t discovered, or a distraction pulled the bad guys away. Something enables the character to avoid conflict.
Whatever the reason for doing this, the effect on the reader is pretty much always the same: disappointment.
This approach is especially popular with writers who feel uncomfortable writing volatile scenes. They resist getting into the meat of the action, some even find it tedious and unsatisfying when things reach a head and people have it out.
Mostly this stems from a lack of confidence in being able to write the big moment and do it justice. It’s far easier to build up the issue and the sense of dread the character has than it is to follow it through to its conclusion. The reason writers often find those scenes pat or clichéd or lacking in some way, is because that’s the only way they know how to write them.
Trying to pretend it's all part of the plan isn't fooling anyone.
The moment when the wife accuses the husband of cheating, or the bully traps the kid in the bathrooms, or the killer confronts the witness in the alley, those scenes have been done so often and in so many different ways, that it’s hard to make them fresh and engaging.
But allowing characters to bypass conflict is defeating the point of writing a story. As uncomfortable and unpalatable as it may feel, facing up to it is as important for the writer as it is for the characters. You only find out what you’re made of when you’re tested.
Even the excuse that this time it’s a feint, but next time will be the real thing doesn’t really wash. Just because the perceived threat wasn’t real doesn’t mean something else can’t take its place. If Jack thinks the killer’s in the house, and it turns out it was just the wind rattling a window, even though it makes sense, it leaves the scene a bit flat. If he thinks the killer’s in the house, and it turns out it’s his ex-wife cutting up his suits, it’s still a dramatic moment.
The option doesn’t have to be conflict or nothing, it can be conflict A instead of conflict B.
It would be great to be able to arrange for conflict to be easily avoided in life, which is why it is so tempting in writing where you have the power to make it happen, but it’s even greater to be able to create horribly unpleasant situations and then write your way out of them.
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