I am finishing up my literature unit on To Kill a Mocking Bird this week. This book has made me think on a large scale. I loved this book for many reasons. The author does incredible work on characters, symbolism, setting, and tone. If you ever have this book as a choice to read, I encourage you to read it.
There was a lot of conflict in this book, and one scene really stuck out to me as something I should really try to do in my writing. Scout goes to school for the first time and is met by her straight out of college, by the book, probably only child, teacher. Scout however knows how to read and write from her father. She spends regular time learning from newspapers and law books while spending time with her dad. There is immediate conflict between the teacher, who believes that Scout should no longer read and write until instructed to do so, and Scout who thinks she has the right to give up school if the teacher dislikes her. The two have rifts throughout the school year that seem so trivial when I first read them. But, looking back at them I realized what made them so significant. Through these conflicts we see Scouts affection for her Dad and how she will not give up the special time they have together. We also see her Dad’s problem solving without making a bigger deal and without puffing himself or his daughter up. Lastly, the major thing that I saw in this conflict was the glimpses it gave us of the different kinds of people that lived in town. We see the kids that live far in the woods that want to learn. We see kids that come only on the first day of school so that they can say that they went and nothing more. We see kids who come from families that don’t have much of anything. In a way we get a glimpse of the entire town, simply by that conflict. This has a huge play in the overall plot.
How can this help me in my writing?
Most know that conflict is what holds the story together, so it is obviously going to be easy to identify. What made this little conflict great is that it reveals a lot. Here are some questions to consider when developing conflict.
What is this going to reveal about the people in my story?
What strengths/weaknesses are going to be shown in other characters?
What additional conflicts is this going to arise?
If it seems like a small conflict, how can I tie this into the broad scheme of things?
How are my characters going to grow from this conflict?
Are your characters going to reflect on this later, and what are they going to think of their actions? (In this book, Scout continues in school and has future, more enjoyable, contact with that teacher.)
I can’t help but read a book and see how I can apply it to my writing. I hope that you can take this and increase the effectiveness of those small conflict moments in your story. Sometimes I will read a scene where characters are in a rift and I wonder how this has anything to do with the story. What would you say is the biggest thing small conflict moments have to have to make them worth putting in the story?