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Fritz's comments on writing advice
Comments on writing advice
Advice and Rules
Having built a number of expert systems working closely with experts I have come to realize that many experts don't know what they know or how to describe (or teach) what they do. This is something that I think most givers and receivers of writing advice (rules, etc.) don't realize: because a successful writer gives some advice (or declares a rule) doesn't mean they follow that advice; nor does it mean (as has stated) that it will work for a given receiver of the advice.
Advice to new writers
Write what you would like to read, and publish it if you think others share your tastes. The biggest disservice you can do to yourself as a writer is to assume that what works for other writers will work for you. Your biggest asset as a writer are the books that you love. Don't try to rewrite them, but find what made you love them and seek to recreate it.
There are stories with no individual or personified antagonist, such as Swiss Family Robinson, or the Tom Hanks' movie _Castaway_ (man vs. nature stories). Not that this is the situation you are talking about Susan, but I think it worth noting that tension and conflict can come from situations, not just people.
Internally driven conflict (on the part of the main character) is not necessary for a good story. For example, much of the mystery genre provides little if any insight into the inner life of the main character / detective.
And speaking of mystery fiction, this is another example of story where there isn't necessarily an antagonist. The conflict can be driven entirely by the puzzle solving.
Susan -- I think you've hit on one of the major reasons that an antagonist isn't necessary (depending on the type of story, of course) by equating the antagonist with conflict (which is only a one-way equiv., an antagonist represents conflict, but not all conflict is personified). There are many reasons that a reader will engage with a story that aren't conflict oriented, including a mystery/puzzle, world building, sense-of-wonder, sympathy for the main character and/or the situation, affinity (I want a better word than this) with the main character, tension, wanting to find out what happens next, and more that I haven't thought of.
Susan, I should have asked this before, but what genre(s) are you working with here? Trying to give and receive writing advice without knowing the genre is like trying to give cooking advice without knowing what dish is being prepared.
Michael Stern said: "Question-is there a difference between tension and conflict? Can conflict be subtle? Must the world be endangered and saved by the hero? Thinking out loud folks."
Michael -- Yes. Yes. No. -- Tension can come from not knowing what is going to happen next, or even, guessing what is going to happen next and not wanting it to happen. Conflict can passive-aggressive and all between the lines. There's all sorts of fiction that doesn't even have heroes (as versus main characters), including mystery and crime, and while romance can have heroes, they aren't (necessarily) out to save the world, but rather to win a heart.
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