Monday, May 16, 2011

Meta-Conflicts by Randy Ingermanson: Part One

This Manuscript Monday, let's go beyond the basics of fiction writing to something a little meatier with renown writing guru Randy Ingermanson. You've heard of including conflict in your story, but what about meta-conflicts? Let's dig a little deeper today as Randy discusses the Games People Don't Play, part one.

The Games People Don't Play: Part One*
by Randy Ingermanson

Fiction is about characters in conflict. In this column, I've talked about many different kinds of conflict over the years, but there's one kind that I don't recall ever discussing.

It's the conflict that comes when one character changes the rules of the game. Changes them so radically that it's suddenly a completely different game.

To understand this kind of conflict, let's look at an extreme example. Imagine that you challenge your buddy to a match at the tennis courts. Whoever loses has to buy the pizza for dinner.

You show up at the courts with your tennis racket and all your other gear.

Your buddy shows up with a chessboard, sets it up on the sidelines, and sits down behind the white pieces. He hasn't got a racket. He's not dressed for tennis. He isn't even on the court.

You wait for him to get his act together, but he's paying no attention to you, so finally you serve an ace to an empty court.

Your buddy moves his king's pawn forward.

You serve another ace.

Your buddy moves his queen out to the fifth rank.

You ace him again.

He moves his king-side bishop out.

You miss on your next serve, but you aren't worried, because he still isn't on the court. One more serve, and you'll have him nailed for this game.

He moves his queen down to the seventh rank, takes your king's bishop pawn, shouts, "Checkmate!" and leaps out of his chair, doing a victory dance.

What just happened there? You were winning, weren't you? But he thinks he's winning, because you've been playing different games.

This is an extremely weird kind of conflict. A meta-conflict. A conflict over what the nature of the conflict is supposed to be.

*Article first appeared in Randy Ingermanson's Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, April 2011. See his website for more information.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 25,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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