Bubba’s Philosophy of Fictional Conflict

According to legend, there is a small speck floating alone in a vast, empty forgotten stretch of the universe that has not experienced conflict. Unless you happen to be this miniscule particle (and I think the likelihood is low), conflict is a part of your identity. If, by some freakish chance, you are that tiny speck, you just ruined a perfectly good setup. I hope you’re happy with yourself.

Anyway, people have created a number of different techniques to handling, resolving, avoiding, causing, and denying conflict. In the real world, there are several ways to deal with it. Fiction, however, is not the real world.

Here’s the issue. For many years, authors, editors, publishers, and university professors who have never held a real job have developed a set a rules for each other that govern the ways in which a story may be told. Those who follow the rules are “good” and those who do not are “subhuman illiterate hacks.” Some of these rules govern and define our culture’s Philosophy of Fictional Conflict.

Tyrannical Rule #1: Conflict must exist between a minimum of two parties and a maximum of three. Conflicts with less than two parties make no sense and shall not be permitted. Fights between four or more parties confuse the minuscule and fragile minds of readers and are, therefore, banned. Conflicts between fractional numbers are ridiculous and may cause an editor’s head to explode. Irrational numbers are right out. Authors who flout this law will be ridiculed and chastised in public by their betters until they either surrender their right to write or shrivel in shame. We’re good with either outcome.

Tyrannical Rule #2: All conflict must be created in such a way that the antagonist must be omniscient and omnipotent. Evil must always be infinitely stronger than good. The protagonist must have absolutely no reasonable chance of success. The antagonist must also have one weakness. Two or more weaknesses will not be allowed under any circumstances.

Tyrannical Rule #3: No matter how impossible or unlikely, all conflict must be resolved in only one way. The protagonist must overcome all obstacles through extreme debilitating suffering. Regardless of the mechanisms or methodologies employed by the protagonist, the only reason the protagonist wins the fight with their antagonist is by persevering through immense suffering just a moment longer than the antagonist. No other method of resolution will be allowed for any reason. Any suggestion that a conflict can be overcome by any other means will be met with extreme hatred, explosive derision, and the panicked shrieking of all good authors, editors, publishers, and university professors who have never held a real job.

Tyrannical Rule #4: No variation, deviation, or modification of these laws will be tolerated. Any author who dares question one or more of these rules will no longer be allowed to think with their own brain. Only authors who conform completely in every conceivable way to these laws will be considered “creative.”

Well, I disagree. I’ve listened to my fellow authors. I’ve heard their point of view. I understand that using commonly accepted thought processes and storytelling methods makes it much easier for a reader to predict how a story will go before they ever crack it open. That’s my problem with it. I want to be surprised by the story. I want it to go places that I didn’t expect and for the characters to do things I didn’t predict. To that end, I have created Bubba’s Philosophy of Fictional Conflict.

Bubba’s Rule #1: Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s a part of the character’s personality, world, and culture. Some are sharp and intense while others are more trivial. Characters facing different types of conflict will appear more solid than those that only face one at a time.

Bubba’s Rule #2: Neither protagonists, antagonists or any other fictional characters are all powerful or all knowing. Get over it. Some may be stronger than others, but attempting to ramp up the drama by exaggerating the antagonist’s power is pathetic and weak. Having a protagonist find and exploit an antagonist’s one and only weakness is predictable and, therefore, to be met with a sarcastic eye-roll.

Bubba’s Rule #3: Conflict resolution must not be predictable. Protagonists may overcome obstacles in any number of ways including outwitting, surprising, appeasing, distracting, or talking with the antagonist. Conflict resolution that can be predicted before a book has been opened must be the one form of resolution that cannot be used. Any suggestion that conflict must be resolved only by suffering will be met with water balloons filled with jellyfish.

Bubba’s Rule #4: Exceptions will be made for each and every rule as necessary to fit the story. Rules will be considered to be guidelines rather than absolutes. Authors are required to think with their own brains.

Bubba’s Rule #5: Bubba’s Rules shall not be binding on any other person. No other author, editor, publisher, or university professor who has never held a real job will be required or expected to comprehend or accept these rules.

After all, I’m not looking for an argument.

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Self-Centered Reviews

Every once in a while, I ignore the GPS of conventional wisdom and veer onto a poorly lit side street. From the condition of the road, this appears to be one of those times.

One of the conundrums facing independent authors is the task of securing a sufficient quantity of reviews for their work. Common sense says that new readers may not be drawn to a new book until a critical mass of reviews have been written for the book. No one wants to be the first to dive into new waters. That never ends well in a movie during shark week. As a result, independent authors end up lurking in public places, begging for reviews and (occasionally) offering to wash windows in return.

One alternative to this rather pathetic display is the use of non-reciprocal reviews. The idea is that multiple authors come together and agree to read and review books by another author in the group, but not the author who is reviewing their work. That way, no one is able to trade one fawning review for another. When the system works, everyone wins. Honest reviews are written for each book and the street corners and viaducts remain free of loquacious beggars.

The problem is that most authors are human. While some will honor their commitments and write honest reviews, others will not. Some will speed through the book, skimming an entire novel in a few hours in an effort to spend as little time as possible on the review. Some may read it, but won’t bother to write their own review and will just copy and paste reviews written by others. A certain number of cretins will happily accept reviews for their own book while failing to review others.

Yes, that is reprehensible and no, there is no excuse for such behavior. The issue is that many authors are so consumed with their own self-centered desire to rack up as many reviews and/or accolades as possible for themselves that they don’t care that they are cheating other authors in the process. Even worse, they don’t care about the impact on potential readers.

Chasing after them, begging for them to honor their commitment is an obvious waste of time and energy. Scrambling after reviews in a mad race to reach a magic quantity that will coax readers to your shelf is an insane game. The solution is obvious. We can choose not to play.

If someone wants to write a review, they will. If not, there is little an author can do to persuade them to do so. While many authors may disagree with me, I would like to think that books will eventually find their audience. That may be naïve, but I would rather follow this course than hunt down self-centered reviewers.

Hang on, I think I recognize this street. I’m back on track now and my GPS can stop recalculating. You can relax now.