Last Thursday President Obama made a speech launching “My Brother’s Keeper,” a widespread effort by a coalition of philanthropic organizations with the purpose of “creating opportunity for boys and young men of color.” As you may recall, the media covered his speech by focusing chiefly on his personal remarks about growing up without a father, being angry, making bad choices, “getting high” … all of which he has talked about openly and that he wrote about in his 2004 book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Among many important things the president said in his 4,500-word speech that deserve our attention, he asked, “There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?” [Read more…]
Every good story has to have conflict, otherwise it’s not a story.
I remember many years ago when I was a student at Columbia College Chicago studying fiction writing, we sat in semi-circles in four-hour class sessions practicing all sorts of visualization and verbalization exercises to fertilize our imaginations, to develop our abilities to describe, on the fly, what we saw in our imaginations. What I always found lacking in Columbia’s method, however, was clear teaching about how to generate and resolve conflict. Surely, if you can’t write dialog, if you can’t set a scene, if you can’t immerse your readers in the world of your fiction, your fiction won’t be good. But if there is no conflict, then there is only description, which ultimately leads to boredom. I wrote many hundreds of pages describing characters, engaging them in dialog, showing their surroundings, and so on. But at the end of the day, I often asked myself, as did my teachers, “So what?”
So what was my writing about? What was the conflict? Why should I/we care about the characters I was creating? Where were they going? [Read more…]