Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Contradictions In Plot Development

While I'm waiting for my book cover to come back from my artist, I ran across some scribblings in one of my notebooks. It was about the role contradictions in plot development. I thought I'd share them with you.

Definition: A contradiction is something about a person that piques our interest because it betrays what we expect, given what else we know about a character. It expresses a paradox of human nature: people do one thing and exactly the opposite. They're this, but they're also that.

Contradictions basically serve two key dramatic purposes:

1. Defy expectation and thus pique our interest.

2. Provide a straightforward method for depicting complexity and depth.

Specifically, they provide a means to portray:
  •  Subtext (the tension between the expressed and the unexpressed, the visible and the concealed)
  • The situational subtleties of social life (I must be many things to many people)
  • The conflict between conscious and unconscious behavior
  • Suspense (we want to know what the conflict means; why it's there)
But there are limits to what is credible. Contradictions that seem implausible may enhance a comic portrayal, but they can undermine a dramatic one if handled carelessly. Ask whether the contradiction draws you, the writer, toward the character, or permits you an emotional distance. If the latter, you're looking at the character rather than emotionally engaging with her. If you can justify the contradiction, root it in backstory and unearth scenes from your imagination that reveal how this character develops these seemingly irreconcilable inclinations, it will become less conceptual and more intuitive and organic.

"The great challenge of fiction is creating characters who feel logically, emotionally and psychologically consistent - who make sense - but retain the enigmatic power to surprise." ~ Brian Klems ~


  1. Hi, Karen. Great post.

    1. Susanne: Thanks. I didn't get much response, so I assume it was not a winner, so to speak. LOL!