The mathematics behind conflict

Conflict between characters is one of the pivotal elements that keep a reader turning the pages. I was thinking about this during the week and it came to me that conflict reminded me of the fractal poster my brother had on his wall when we were kids.

If you aren’t familiar with them fractals make great artwork – not only the man-made kind, but the sort nature makes as well.


Fractal frost
Fractal broccoli










As a side note – hopefully when finished our stories are also a work of art. But it’s not the art work I was thinking of.

A story needs an over-reaching conflict. The *something* that keeps the hero and heroine apart. And the *something* that makes the reader wonder how it can possibly work out – and turn the page.

So how does all this relate to maths?

According to wikipedia, fractals are: a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole.

In other words, fractals are a complicated mathematical formula.

Like fractals, the conflict between our hero and heroine is always complicated. Our story is split into parts (scenes) each of which includes (at least approximately) a small part of the conflict.

And like fractals, the conflict starts out big, but finishes as a tiny piece of nothing – the moment of the happy ever after.

So thanks to my brother’s poster, I now see fractals as the mathematical answer to conflict.

2 comments on “The mathematics behind conflict

  1. I’m not good at conflict. Ain’t so good at math. No wonder this writing gig is so tough.

    Can you compare another part of writing to gym class next time? I’ll be able to keep up better. And my confidence will soar! Okay, float maybe.

    • Hah, PE class was never my strong suit, but here goes… Show versus Tell is like gym/PE class. Instead of the coach telling us what to do…
      Start by setting up in a 3 out 2 in formation, with your point guard (Cliff), shooting guard (Claire), and small forward (Theo) on the perimeter, and your power forward (Denise) and center (Vanessa) on the blocks. With the all at the wing, the point guard will screen away to the opposite wing. In this case, Cliff screens for Theo. Meanwhile the ball side post (Denise)
      will screen away for the weak side post (Vanessa). After Theo and Vanessa come off heir screens, Claire can either enter the ball to Vanessa on the block, or pass to Theo, who reverses it to Cliff on the opposite wing… by which time I am completely lost, facing the wrong way and standing at the wrong end of the basketball court, he should show us what to do by demonstrating the positions and passes.

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