The Craft: Conflict and Metamorphosis

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a short story not just good, but great. Why do some reach out and grab you and others leave you cold? Well, I think I’ve hit on one of those things that compels you to keep reading: conflict leading to metamorphosis.

I began to suspect this was an important thing when Kenneth Jobe, another writer I follow, said that it was strange that his stories that were accepted both had characters in them that didn’t die.

My story ‘Tale of the Revolution’ is in there, and like my other story to be published so far, it’s a bit of an anomaly. Once again, it’s the rare story where no one dies and there are no curse words.

“Both stories where no one died?” I thought. That got me to thinking about an editor who said that he preferred to accept stories in which the protagonist DID NOT die, but was rather changed by what they experienced. Then, something else clicked: I remembered that at the writing workshop I took at RavenCon, Allen Wold said that a story was a tale with a plot, setting and characters in which the characters, the world or both change in some fundamental way.

So, like writers do, I mused a bit more on this. I turned it over and thought about it: Did my stories contain characters that metamorphosed, that changed? Yes, they did. Both of my accepted works featured protagonists that underwent major changes by the end of the story. How and why did this change happen? In every case, it was because of pressure, because of conflict.

The HatchlingsAntonio_del_Pollaiolo_Apollo_and_Daphne
In “The Hatchlings,” the narrator, Pharos, must decide whether to witness the horrendous Zakir ritual in the arena from start to finish or to walk out. The tension or conflict is: Will he stay or will he leave? He decides to stay and is forever changed by it.

The Ghul of Yazd
In “The Ghul of Yazd(to be published by Strangelet Journal in Sept.), Rasul must decide whether to assassinate a child, knowing that failing to do so means he will betray the hashashin brotherhood. In the end, he balks, setting in motion a long series of events and personal transformations…More on that later, once the story goes live…


It made me think of the story I’m working on right now, “B.” This story passes the metamorphosis test as the main character changes profoundly by learning the truth about the world she inhabits and deciding to DO something about it. She is a completely different person from the one she was a mere 4,000 words earlier. That’s no guarantee an editor will like it, but it’s a good start.

So, as you write this week, think about that. How do your characters—acting under pressure and in the midst of conflict—change? It works as a device in literature because, in the end, that’s what life is. Who is the same as they were 10 years ago? Who is the same person that they were this morning? We are constantly changing (or resisting change) in response to pressure. Characters in literature should be no different. After all, as Borges wrote:

The universe, like you, is Proteus.

or in the original Spanish:

el universo es, como tú, Proteo.


PS…Don’t forget to break the rules. I’m toying around right now with a protagonist for a new story who NEVER changes. I can just see him saying, almost spitting out this line of dialogue: “Me? Change? I don’t change. I never change. Let the world change. I remain constant.”

Of course, the delicious thing about this character is that a person with such an attitude immediately creates conflict wherever he goes. He will either force the world to change or have to bend to IT as a result. There you have it: Tension and conflict leading to change. We’ll have to see how the story turns out…That’s a post for another time.

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This Blog Reaches 100 Followers–Plus Shoutouts

Ye olde blog here just reached 100 followers. Not bad. And it comes right after passing its 2nd anniversary of the blog.

I was feeling pretty awesome about this when, the other day, I decided to visit my sister-in-law’s blog and found she had about 3 times as many visitors in a comparable time period. And I’m the one who’s supposed to be the writer here. Oh well…


Shoutouts
…Still, it’s quite an accomplishment. I couldn’t be happier knowing that 100 people out there check out my blog on a regular basis. To celebrate, I’m going to give a shout-out to some of my blog followers today. Especially those that are doing the same thiPower, Money, Art Patronage. It's good to be the Pope.ng I’m doing: writing fiction.

But first, let me ask a little favor: Please stop by THEIR blogs and check them out. And if they have books or stories available, please consider BUYING them and leaving a review. And when you stop by their blogs, don’t be afraid to COMMENT on a post. They won’t bite… hard…as Austin Powers said. Trust me!

Remember, you may not be Pope Julius II, but you can patronize the arts and support real artists just the same with a few dollars and a few clicks. So, thanks in advance for supporting the art of writing and now…Drumroll please. Here they are are in reverse order, with those who most recently followed the blog coming first and the original, Back-in-the-Day followers coming last. 

Grady P. Brown (Blog Follower #100)
I’ve jut “met” Grady virtually via the blog, so I haven’t had a chance to get to know him or his writing. On his blog, he says he’s a “science fiction author who is diagnosed with high functioning autism” and “a connoisseur of the science fiction, fantasy, and superhero genres.” His superhero novel set in Los Angeles, The Young Guardians and the Genesis Spell is out now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Anna Bayes (Blog Follower #96)
On her blog, Anna says that “sex is not the only thing she writes about, but mind-shattering, great sex makes her feel alive, and so it has become a topic she writes about with gusto.” She also “admires how a story with multiple layers of meaning can be packed into just a few hundred words” and “aspires to produce good work in the short story form.”

It is very, very difficult to write good erotica (I have dabbled and failed) and the little I’ve read of her stuff is top notch. Her latest piece is Love Letter available on Amazon Kindle. (The story is for the 18+ crowd, so be advised.)

Tim W. Burke (Blog Follower #89)
This guy I actually met in the flesh at RavenCon. Speaking of flesh, his latest book, The Flesh Sutra is out and has already garnered some great reviews. He has a blog where he self publishes some stuff and a Facebook page. He’s published a lot of stories in top-notch magazines and there are more to come. Look forward to reading a lot more horror (Tim, please include the dark humor too. I love that stuff!!!) from him.

Kenneth Jobe (Blog Follower #28)
Watch this guy. He’s just getting started, but his writing makes you feel like he’s been doing this a long time. His blog, The Books of Jobe, covers writing, music, movies and everyday life. It’s hilarious and insightful at the same time. He recently published “Tale of the Revolution” in Nebula Rift and “Aiden’s Acting Up Again” in The Rusty Nail Literary Journal of May/June 2014.

I can’t wait to see where his writing goes next.

Lita Burke (Blog Follower #3)
Lita was one my first followers on this blog. She is an “Indie fantasy writer” and writes about the worlds she creates on her blog. Her latest novel is Wrath, Prequel to Tredan’s Bane and is available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.


Apologies to those I passed over this time. There are a lot of great writers out there and I would have loved to highlight you all. In time, I hope to write about more of you.

Until next time…Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius Jones