Autistic Writer Series: Conflict in Fiction

In last week’s post, I asserted characters were the most significant aspect of good fiction, despite solid counter—arguments that conflict holds that distinction.

I stand by my position. Still, the impact of conflict on fiction cannot be overstated.

Nor can the influence of an Autistic writer’s brain on same.

Conflict is usually defined as a battle between two opposing forces—the desires of one or more entities at odds with one another. For example:

Short, peaceful creatures must get to a mountain to destroy a magical item, as evil powers try to stop them and take the item for themselves.

In other words, forces not merely different from one another, but in direct opposition.

Conflict.

The conflict isn’t always as clear as this. And in the special case of literary fiction, it may not be there at all. But within proper genre fiction it’s there if one looks for it.

As someone on The Spectrum, I want and sometimes need my goals and by extension my conflicts well defined and quickly resolved. I prefer to tackle them head on as they arrive.

This isn’t to say I expect the work to be done for me. I’m willing to take on challenges. I would never expect someone to carry me to the top of the mountain in front of me.

That isn’t easy to achieve. Yet “climb the mountain,” strenuous and arduous as it may be, is a straightforward goal.

“Become a wiser, more patient man that masters herbal medicine and karate while coming to gradual terms with the feelings you have and have always had for your problematic travel companion during every step you take to the summit,” isn’t a straightforward goal to me. It isn’t even a list of goals. It’s chaos. Intentional chaos at that.

My brain wants to get on with it! Find the target, keep shooting. The sooner I hit that target the quicker I’m free to tackle the next obstacle.

But not before then. I want to keep tension low and responses deliberate.

This approach, at times necessary in my life, deadens fiction.

Why?

Conflict, conflict, conflict! There wouldn’t be enough of it. True, some fiction sinks itself in its own complexity. Too much conflict in too little time. But my laser-focused-almost-myopic-at-times Autistic mind contends with the opposite issue when I write; “enough” must occur.

My Autistic brain neutralizes conflict in one of two ways. The first is to solve/win it. The second is dismiss/abandon it.

If I choose to solve it, it needs to be solved as soon as possible. At times this happens at the expense of other things. It doesn’t always matter how I move that boulder, so long as I move it.

That can work in fiction. For certain genres and styles perhaps. In general, to be unconcerned with the “how,” and to avoid caring about the journey is the death of standard storytelling.

The journey is the story. So, if left to my total default brain mode of first drafts, I risk “getting to the point” too quickly. It becomes more report than story.

So I must remind myself to layer detail into the journey itself. Not just the overarching journey of the novel, but into anything a fully fleshed out character wants to achieve.

In other words, conflict.

Even in a completely interior struggle inside the heart of a character, I mustn’t rid the work of touchstones. Unlike my real-life tendency to eliminate friction ASAP, as an author I must guide the reader through the conflict and resolution by way of tension.

If I were to write conflict the way I often deal with it, it could be a short, pointless read to others, even if I know mentally there was great conflict involved in what happened in a character’s mind.

That mistake could lead to the worst tension of all in the world of the author: conflict with one’s readers.

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