Indirect conflict: foils in “A Day at the Races”

Often, when you hear the word “CONFLICT” you might picture two people fighting–battling each other, duking it out, or fighting against a snowstorm or hurricane. What you might not think about is conflict that is created the way Jason M. Jones does it in “A Day at the Races.” Take a look at this excerpt:

Your mother never talks about him, who he is or how he was when they dated. She never explains why she wouldn’t marry him, but you’re beginning to get inklings, and this is one of those moments. Your father thinks it’s fun: the speed, the danger. It gives him a rush. but she wouldn’t find this fun, and you don’t, either. To you, it’s tempting fate–foolhardy and dangerous. It defies all common sense, and you’re just happy when he pulls up to the racetrack’s entrance, you’re still in one piece.

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There are a few techniques I like in this paragraph. The first is his use of RULE OF 3: “Your mother….Your father….To you….” We see three points of view about the same situation. This nonfiction piece focuses on the father and son relationship especially, though, so what’s interesting about the conflict here is that it’s not one person out to get another, or one person in the way of another; it’s two people viewing the same situation differently.

The speed and the danger are the thrill the father gets from racing motorcycles on weekends; the speed and the danger are what worries his son, who has nightmares and daymares of his father dying in one of those races. It’s character foil, yes, but it’s more than that. It is a difference in outlook that separates two family members, and it’s the son worried about the father, not the other way around. One person can’t just walk away from this relationship; the two are father and son. But that bond is the very thing creating the problem. It’s a very difficult conflict to resolve.

This true story (together with some words a son NEVER wants to overhear his father say, later on) is in the Fall 2013 edition of The Normal School. Check it out if you get a chance… and give some “indirect conflict” a shot in your own prose!

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