Monday, May 23, 2011

Meta-Conflicts by Randy Ingermanson: Part Two

Happy Manuscript Monday, dear readers. Annette here to welcome Randy Ingermanson back as he continues his series on meta-conflicts in fiction writing. I don't know about you, but this topic has really changed the way I see conflict, both when I'm watching movies and when I'm writing/reading (not to mention in life). Thanks, Randy! Let's dive into Part Two. (If you missed it, please see Part One last week for the beginning of this article.)

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

You might think meta-conflict (the idea that the two characters in a scene are playing by a different set of rules) can never happen in real life. But in fact, it happens all the time. Here's an example that's a little less extreme:

Bossbert walks into Wally's cubicle. "Wally, have you got the report done for the Gooberheimer project?"

Wally blows his nose loudly and tosses the Kleenex at Bossbert. "Wow, I've got the worst cold you ever heard of."

Bossbert leaps back from the germy tissue. "I asked you a yes or no question. That means I need a yes or no answer. Are you planning to give me one or not?"

Wally coughs into his hand, then wipes it on his pants. "I should probably go home, if I didn't have so much work to do."

Bossbert's hands are curling into fists. "Would you like me to fire you?"

Wally puts his hand to his forehead. "I think I've got a fever. Maybe it's the flu."

What's going on here? Why is Bossbert getting madder and madder?

What's going on is that Bossbert is playing one game and Wally is playing another. Bossbert needs
information, so he's asking simple yes-or-no questions.

Wally has no intention of giving an answer because he hasn't done his work. Instead of playing Bossbert's game (which he would lose), he plays a different game -- "feel sorry for me because I'm sick."

Only an unfeeling brute would fire a worker who has the flu. Bossbert can't win at Wally's game, and Wally refuses to play Bossbert's game. So Bossbert loses.

Next week, we'll tie up our series on meta-conflict. 


*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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