TSTL

If you didn’t know that means too stupid to live.  I’m not sure who came up with the term but it’s a common ailment in horror movies where the busty blonde tries to escape the serial killer by going down the dark stairs into the even darker basement while wearing 4 inch stilettos and a bra that wouldn’t hold a lusty thought much less the triple-D bosums bouncing in a too-small shirt.

I had an epipheny during a random binge of apocalypse movies. Writers use TSTL in order to create conflict. The family fleeing the coming zombie horde always goes back for the missing teddy bear and gets eaten by the zombie hiding in the living room. The lone woman survivor who has the last working car stops for the poor stranded guy and has her car stolen, if she’s lucky, and gets murdered and/or raped if she doesn’t. The idiots fleeing the pending volcanic explosion can’t find water when the  landscape is literally covered in snow and the earth is exploding in fire. Oy.

This is not conflict in case anyone is wondering. Or at least not good conflict. Yes, it creates a situation for excitement and creates a need for characters to make hard choices but they are usually (intentionally?) wrong choices in the heat of the moment. Then these wrong choices become fodder for the next series of fake conflicts and bad choices until, by luck, a few survive their own stupidity to make it to the end of the story.

Conflict is different than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Conflict requires sacrifice. Conflict requires growth. Conflict requires opposition, not just physical opposition where there’s a zombie coming to eat your brains but opposition through moral and ethical dilemmas that test a characater’s mettle. So if you want to use the zombie coming at you to eat your brains for a conflict, at least add the twist that the main character can save only one of their two children in the room.

Think of the classic Romancing the Stone when Jack has the long sought after emerald in one hand and a dangling-off-the-cliff Joan in the other. Now that’s conflict! One dream or the other? The right thing or the wanted thing?  While the choice may seem easy to you and me, for Jack it takes a moment’s thought and it’s not “do I let her die or keep the big shiny rock?” It’s more a decision of “can I have them both?” Because that’s so often what conflict comes down to – can your character have both what s/he’s always wanted/dreamed of/worked for AND this new thing they didn’t even know they wanted until they had it in their grasp?

The answer is usually no and when they finally make the leap they discover that this new thing was worth it and what they really always wanted. Happily ever after ensues.

Don’t forget the zombies or the dark basements or the volcanic eruptions because let’s face it, those make for good reading. Just don’t let that be the only conflict in your book.

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