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What It Takes

What It Takes

The Victim, the Perpetrator and the Rescuer

By Shawn Coyne
Published: April 11, 2014

An Oldie but Goodie for the "On Writing" Shelf

As we all know, there is no story without conflict. There is no beat to a scene, no scene, no sequence, no act and no global story without a dump truck full of conflict.

But diving into our vast personal experiences of conflict is not exactly the first pool of creative energy any of us wants to explore. It’s sludgy and unpretty. It gets our heart beating faster than we’d like and it makes us irritable.

Even boxers don’t rush into a prizefight throwing one roundhouse after another. They need to get a feel for the opponent first. Test out their strengths and weaknesses before they attack with combinations.

So what to do?

Take yourself out of the equation and focus on the imaginary people you’ve invented. Think about how each one of them would play one of these three roles when faced with a direct conflict.

How would he play the victim of someone else or a power out of his personal control?

How would he become the perpetrator, the character that loses his composure and unloads a bucket of bile on another character?

How would he play the rescuer, the character that steps in between these two combative forces and sides with the victim?

For example, say you have to set up a love affair for your global story. And you need to dramatize a married couple’s rift. After running down a long list of possibilities (a having a baby scene, a purchasing a house scene, an applying for a loan scene, a wrapping Christmas presents scene…) you decide to write a domestic dinner scene.

How do you do it without using cheesy conflict behavior—having dishes thrown or spewing on the nose “you’re a terrible husband” dialogue?

Start with a VPR analysis.
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