Conflict is the critical element of fiction. Simply put, if there is no conflict, there is no story. While many writers have mastered the introduction of conflict, fewer have learned to resolve it. This has become most evident in American television where some writers drag story arcs to slow and dreary deaths.
Some arcs are pulled along for an entire season. Other writers (or perhaps more accurately, their producers) insist on infinitely-unresolved arcs that last the entire series. It’s not uncommon for some loyal viewers to be left without resolutions simply because the series is cancelled before many of the beaten and battered arcs are ever resolved.
Now, take notice of the BBC series Downton Abbey. The writers of Downton are masters at cascading conflict. What do I mean by “cascading conflict?” It means that as one conflict is nearing resolution, another one is being introduced.
With only the most dramatic arcs as exceptions, we did not see the writers of Downton Abbey (Fellowes, Stephenson, and Pepler) drag out an arc for more than two to four episodes. They introduced and built a conflict, and they resolved it fairly quickly. You’ll see this pattern throughout the series: new arcs involving different characters are introduced just before old arcs are resolved. It’s a method viewers found extremely satisfying. They experienced neither boredom nor exploitation.
Not many people enjoy cliffhangers, and this includes readers. Authors should note the number of readers who have begun to openly complain about cliffhangers on Amazon reviews, chastising authors for selling them an incomplete book, a story without an ending. The cliffhanger, or series arc, has become a gamble.
Writers and authors take note: viewers and readers know the difference between being captivated and being held captive, and in these modern days of popular fiction, they’ve come to crave the former while despising the latter.
About the author:
Selected as one of the “Top 5 Authors Discovered in 2015” by Scifi and Scary Book Reviews, Corey J. Popp began his writing career as a freelance journalist. After discovering that writing human interest and technology articles was excruciatingly boring, he transitioned to fiction. He now has much more fun and makes much less money writing about a mysterious city called Mount Herod. His first novel Beneath Claire’s House can be purchased on Amazon and at other major retailers. To know more, please visit his website.
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