Creative Writing Workshop: Characteristic Conflict

Posted at 18:43pm on 3rd August 2019

In the last Creative Writing Workshop, we looked at the way in which we can go about Creating Credible Characters.  Now I’m going to show you how you can bring creativity to the way you construct conflict.  This is crucial when it comes to writing fiction and memoir (not to be confused with biography).  So we shall be looking at the way in which the characters in a novel  encounter conflict.  This session will also relate to conflict in our own lives.  So if you’ve ever clashed with colleagues, family members or friends this post will, I hope, be of interest.

Let’s begin by looking at how we would define conflict.

Painful, undiagnosed health issues from birth; parents told I was ‘naughty and attention seeking’ and to leave me to cry; disastrous adolescence followed by a miserable marriage and divorce; drug-addicted daughter and her ultimate death – this was my life, and it is the blurb on my latest book, Picked for a Purpose: Bearing Fruit in Times of HardshipHence, I think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to conflict – and, as an Amazon reviewer wrote – how to overcome it!

As you will no doubt have noticed above, conflict has more than one source.  It may be circumstantial – as with my intestinal disease; or it may be characteristic, as with the relationship between me and my first husband, and my daughter’s response to the divorce that followed.  Today, we’re going to look at the way in which disposition plays its part.

PERSONALITY TYPES

What I’m about to tell you has its roots in the turn of the last century, when two remarkable women, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Cook Briggs, developed what, today, is known as MBTI – Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  MBTI is widely used in many aspects of life.  It certainly revolutionised my way of thinking, and I hope it will yours, too.

The theory is that there are 16 personality types.  These types are founded on combinations of four elements, each of which describes the way in which we prefer to operate when it comes to our own lifestyle.  It’s important to note that no one type is better or worse than another.  They are all simply different.

ENERGY = What energises / invigorates us

  • Extroverts (are energised from outside influences, people, and experiences)
  • Introverts (are invigorated by their own thoughts, ideas, reflections)

PERCEPTION = How we receive information about the world

  • Sensors (via the five senses, smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing - fact-based)
  • iNtuitives (by instinct, sixth sense, considering future possibilities rather than facts)                            NB: An N is used for iNtuitive to differentiate it from the I for Introvert

DECISION-MAKING = How we evaluate and process what we’ve taken in, so as to reach conclusions

  • Thinkers (use an analytical, impersonal evaluation system)
  • Feelers (base the process on own values/ideals, impact on others, harmony)

BEHAVIOUR = How we deal with the world

  • Perceivers (like flexibility, spontaneity, open to plenty of options, tomorrow)
  • Judgers (like organised lifestyle, structure, boundaries, closure, today)

The personality types are thus a combination of any of the above.

I must stress that this is only a taster.  I highly recommend Isabel and Peter Myers' book: Gifts Differing.  If you can find a practitioner, I would, also, urge you to attend a workshop.  Or take a personality test here, on my website.

HARMONY?  OR INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT?

The 16 personality types, based on a combination of any four of the elements above, determine our characters – the sort of people we are.  They also determine the sort of job we are best suited for; the kind of person we may be attracted to; our strengths and weaknesses; how we are perceived by others; whether we make good employers, leaders, friends.  Crucially, they also tell us those with whom we have a natural affinity and harmony; and those with whom we’re likely to fall out.

COMPATIBLE? 

They say that opposites attract.  It’s probably true to say that some Extroverts who enjoy being the life and soul of the party wouldn’t want competition.  Therefore they may well find an Introvert more appreciative of their outgoing personality.  And the Introvert, less adroit at socialising, may well enjoy the attention and interaction they receive, living in the shadow of an Extrovert partner.  But what happens if the Introvert tires of the Extrovert’s talkative nature when all they want is a bit of peace to think?  Or the Extrovert becomes bored with the time needed for an Introvert to reflect, when all they want is a decision NOW.

OR CLASHING?

Similarly, the Sensor and iNtuitive (S&N) may well be compatible.  As an (N) I certainly appreciate my husband’s (S) when it comes to giving me detailed and methodical directions for a journey I have to undertake alone.  Likewise, he values my ability to think through the possible consequences of any course of action we’re contemplating.  But the potential is there for us both to infuriate each other in other respects.  When I ask a question, I usually want only ‘the bottom line’ – not the detailed discourse I get.  And when I answer his queries with a leap of logic, he is (sometimes) lost.  However, as I explain below, knowing this enables us to be patient with one another.

PERSONALITY & GENDER?

Thinkers and Feelers need each other when it comes to decision making, and there is often a gender-divide in this respect.  To arrive at a balanced conclusion, we may need to apply both logic and emotion.  But if either person is an extreme Thinker or Feeler, the likelihood for conflict may be acute, the T feeling that the F is too soppy and sentimental; the F believing the T to be cold and hard.

J’s from the table above, like predictability and structure, whereas P’s like to have umpteen projects on the go, are often untidy in the process, and may finish none of them.  I know of men who are driven to distraction by the untidiness and complete indifference of their wives when it comes to the state of their home.  Conversely, though we look upon it with benign good humour, neither my husband nor I could cope with the structured lives of one of our daughters and sons-in-law.  And I’m sure, from their point of view, that the feeling is mutual!

In the analysis above, we’ve looked only at opposites.  But the potential for conflict is also present with those of identical Type.  Remember, we’re looking at the causes of conflict rather than harmony, because it is conflict that is at the heart of story-telling.  We shall be looking at this next time.

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