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Lies, Deceit and Moving Fiction Forward.

Conflict is the driving force in all storytelling. Whatever the scenario, no matter the character, conflict is what gets us, as an audience, sucked in and keeps us interested. There are many great ways to create conflict in a story, however as a base point it is something that is usually based between the protagonist and another character, their environment, a government or outside influence (think gigantic and ominous spaceship hovering above a darkened city skyline). Conflict can be between any number of people and situations. My favourite and least favourite type of conflict is that between two characters. I love it because it can be incredibly powerful, and I detest it because sometimes I identify with it so much that it makes me uncomfortable.

Writing conflict can be tricky, but there’s one explicit way to create the fire and tension that’s required for an emotionally charged story. By employing the tactics of lies and deceit. Writing characters who blatantly lie, or ones who deceive and lie by omission, can be incredibly effective in creating empathy for the protagonist who is on the receiving end of this behaviour. This can be an especially poignant experience for the reader if the protagonist has built a certain level of trust with their deceiver. The revelation of the lie, no matter how small, is catalyst enough to change the way a reader feels about everything they have experienced in reading a book, or watching a film.

I hear people ask though… Why do we enjoy reading or watching this deception? For the most part I think we can agree that lying is a despicable act. It can cause a immense amount of hurt to those on the receiving end. I believe the reason we consume this kind of betrayal in our entertainment is that we all can relate, in some way or shape, to having been that person who has been tricked, scammed, betrayed and felt we’ve been made a fool of. We have all been in a position, at some stage of our lives, where a person we’ve trusted or loved, or both, has broken that trust (employer/lover/parent). The feelings of angst and pain that come with those experiences stay with us, and when we read it in a book or see it on screen, we empathise. It is a very human way to react. It makes us feel involved, it gives us a personal connection to the characters, of a shared experience, no matter how obscure or convoluted, and we form an affinity to the character who is being wronged.

A good example of this might be from a novel I read a while back. It was in the romance genre, not something I usually read; however the protagonist was headstrong and funny and I immediately liked her. As usually goes, the protagonist meets, and against her better judgement, falls for a character who is equally as witty, charismatic, and kind. After an extended period, the protagonist is ready to move things forward in the relationship, but through extensive internet snooping finds out the person she’s been seeing is actually married. This scenario sets the protagonist up for a great deal of anguish. I identified with the protagonist because I, like so many of us, have been hurt in love. The feeling of betrayal, the anger and the pity felt for the wife, were all things I had experienced myself. It made the story more personal for me. It made me root for the protagonist and become so much more invested in the decisions she made next. This conflict, between two fictional characters, somehow became my story. Because I could relate to it, because it conjured up those feelings from my own similar experience. It was personal.

And that’s what conflict does. It makes us uncomfortable. It makes us hurt. It causes us anguish. All these things that help us identify and built rapport with the characters in the media we consume, ultimately aid in giving us the greatest euphoria when the conflict is resolved, our protagonist triumphs and all is well. I think that’s why most of us like to read, watch movies and television. For the most part, we get that resolution, that comfort of knowing everything is going to be alright. In these stories we get to see the conflict end, even though it may not be the case in our real lives. For those few hours when we’re lost in the story, we get to see the people we identify with getting closure on their situation. It may not always be like that for the rest of us, but good fiction always helps us in a way. It makes us feel less alone, more connected, and hopefully at the turn of the last page, it makes us happy.


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