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Short Story & Addressing Conflict

HalfEatenSurprise

Registered Member
I haven't posted much in here lately, because as Merc pointed out, quite rightly, the writer's forum has been dead for a while. Anyway -- to chip in randomly with some topic -- I post this.

I've dredged up an old short story of mine, I've cleaned it up a bit. I'll post it below, for anyone to read if they really want to. I'm not sure if it's any good, but it's something. It's a quirky romance type thing.

I think the story could add some sort of discussion point in regards to addressing the theme of 'conflict'.
conflict between characters primarily.

I find that it's pretty important to have an air of conflict in a story, especially a short one. However, I also find that getting the tone right in such a conflict is hard. It was particularly hard in my story below because the two characters do not hate each other, in fact they love each other.
Yet, they have a fair amount of differences. Setting the tone was hard, because if I nailed it in too much it'd make it seem like the characters wanted to stab each other to death or something. Nonetheless I had a shot, and I'm happy enough with the results, although you may judge as you see fit.

And please discuss the theme too. Perhaps you've tackled 'conflict' before in your own writing. Are there any specific techniques you adhere to when trying to present conflict? Does it just fall into place with you? Let us know.

Thanks.

-----


Kleptomania​

"Richard, I told you the rules when I first asked you if you wanted to do this. There's nothing wrong with it, it's a victimless crime. It's not like we're living in Saxon times. Things are insured, you don't need to worry about people being put out by it, they can afford to lose it. It might even prove beneficial to some people. Nobody gets hurt. If we get away with it then it's our good fortune, and their stupidity in not noticing what we're up to. Do you understand?"

Richard thought about this for a second as he looked upon the quartet of beer he had just liberated from the Co-op. The green glass offered a reflection, but it was distorted. Nothing seemed clear any more; he was beginning to lose sight of who he was. A month ago, he'd never have agreed to something like this. It made him wonder what he was actually doing it for.

Was it satisfying some childish need? Was it for love? He knew he loved her, she was fun - but why on earth was she so heartless? He often wondered if she really loved him at all, although that didn't matter to him. The love was his, he owned it. He thought he'd heard that in a film somewhere, but he couldn't remember what it was.

He felt hazy, as he strolled beside her he couldn't help the awful feelings swelling up in the pit of his stomach. He swallowed hard, trying to amass the determination to get past this.

Jane had proposed this game three days ago, Richard had mulled it over, and then on initially refusing to take part she hit him with the news that if he didn't help her satisfy her needs, she'd leave him. There and then. He felt that he knew she meant that. A sane man would have told her to pack her bags, but he couldn't.

She'd also claimed she didn't actually want to leave him; Richard wasn't totally sure if she was telling the truth. The whole thing seemed like a joke, and Richard wasn't the sort of man to create a logical decision on the spot, least of all to choose the harder option.

It had led him to accept her offer, and on beginning it was easy, nobody spots a missing packet of chewing gum. After those few little things he actually thought it was simple work, and that he was some kind of natural when it came to shoplifting. That idea was now beginning to trickle away.

It was now starting to get harder, even though the current items weren't particularly expensive, they were awkward wares, and in hard shops to hit. Worst of all, the whole thing was becoming more of a moral dilemma than anything else. As much she tried to explain that it 'was no big deal', he couldn't shake off the idea that he was stealing. It wasn't right.
He couldn't fathom the way in which Jane seemingly drank in that wondrous feeling after each heist.

"You're not going to call it quits are you?" Richard said in a way that seemed like he was begging.

Jane gave him an ecstatic smile, he couldn't reply. He just looked at her in wonderment. She looked remarkable to him, besides the notion that she was a little crazy and a lot nasty, he couldn't wish to be without her. The radiant black hair that fell to her shoulders, her young slender body adorned with pink and black clothing that intentionally flaunted her curves and her loveable, wan skin tone. He often wondered how he had managed to become her 'partner'.

Everything attracted him about her, even small things, like her religiously worn black and white converse shoes. Her enchanting grey eyes, that intoxicating fragrance, a mixture of mild cigarette smoke, mint and a lavender scented perfume of some sort. Everything seemed to strike him, where it would matter.

She'd never ask him to buy her 'that' perfume - she'd told him as bluntly as possible that she couldn't entrust him to do something like that for her. It was a shattering confession, and it came on Christmas day, after he found her gifts in the dustbin. She'd thrown them away without opening them. It almost broke his heart. The notion of not being able to give her a symbol of his devotion to her. He'd seethed that night as she expected him to make 'love' to her. The next morning, he noted that she had asked him not to get her anything. He forgot about it, assuming that it might have actually been his fault.

He remained with her, occasionally trying to work out why he put up with such treatment. He couldn't work it out, maybe it was just a thing about the young woman who knows she's got it all, who knows she can play tunes on men's hearts. She was like a deity or a rare flower that needed tending. You can not ignore such a marvellous thing, even if it is poisonous it is still special, bright and colourful and you cannot turn away from that, not for a second.

"We aren't stopping yet Richie Rich. We've got things to get hold of. The four pack only cost a fiver, we're up to six quid now. Get your brain working, think of something that costs six quid or as close to it as poss."

"Have I got to get it today?"

"Yes. Come on lover, what are you reckoning on?"

"I don't know. I bet you have something in mind already."

"Yes I do, but I reckon that you should think a bit, it'll do you good."

"Clinton's isn't far. How about a card worth six quid?" Jane looked at him and gave him a shrill look of excitement.

"The counter's near the door, you may have to run. Let's do it."

"You mean, you're going to help me this time?"

"Yeah. Come on, it'll be great."

Jane sashayed to the corner of the High Street and walked enticingly towards the shopping centre. Richard tried to halt himself, but something else came to mind, something he felt a little ashamed of, deep down, where he could easily ignore it - remember how horny she got after last time?

He jogged after her. She had already entered Clinton Cards, Richard wandered after her. On catching her up she was looking through some of the birthday cards, pretending to be a honest paying citizen.

"Anything?" Richard said.

"This," Jane said handing the card to him. It was a birthday card, it said 'Dad' on the front and had a picture of a football on it. On opening, it announced its jingle as the Match of the Day theme tune.

"Come on," Jane said closing the flap over Richard's thumb, "act casual. This will be a hoot," Jane walked towards the door, the woman at the counter was busy serving. She hadn't noticed the duo, Richard walked nervously. He could feel the adrenaline kicking in, this was quite a rush, but he wasn't having as much fun as her.

They reached the doormat and just as they were to step outside Jane turned around and flicked the card open again and joined in with the loud song that came from within. Richard's heart sank,

"Quick. RUN!" She shouted and ran out of the shop, continuing to chant the theme. Richard bolted as the cashier looked up and exclaimed what he could only presume was the word 'shoplifters'.

Jane had stormed ahead, and Richard chased behind her the card still open and still playing that infernal tune. He felt like some sort of insane ice-cream vendor, the noise trailed behind as someone pursued him. He wasn't close, but he was following and that's always a bad thing. Jane skipped across the road at the top of the High Street and disappeared into the market. Richard followed frantically, his pursuer lost sight.

As he sprinted through the stalls he noticed Jane dash into an alley way that would bring her to the housing estate behind it. Richard followed, he was safe now, he'd got away. Two minutes later he met up with Jane hiding in a bus shelter.

"You-- You-- You--"

"You what?" Jane said and laughed

"You-- Why did you do that?"

"It was funny. We can't just have you sneaking in and out without a bit of a struggle or some sort of chase. It was fun, we got away."

"Why do you have to be like this?"

"Like what?"

"So crazy."

"I'm not crazy--" Jane said standing up to her man, "--you take that back."

"Sorry, I take it back," he didn't dare argue with her raw tenacity, he always lost against her temper.

"Good-- Now look. I know you're not used to all this stuff and you probably can't understand why I want to do it, I can't explain it myself. I just want you to know that I won't put you in a compromising situation. You know that don't you?" She said and wrapped her arms around his trunk. "I'm being honest with you, I won't let anyone get you."

"I know," he said. He believed her.

"What do you say we call it a day and go get a pint?"

"Yeah, let's go. I really need one now," Richard said, and took her hand.

"Least you don't have to get your Dad a birthday card now," she said. Richard smiled, as much he thought her philosophy was somewhat twisted and malicious, he couldn't help but like it.

* * * * *​

"Today we're going to see if you can steal something a little cooler. You know how much I love Johnny Cash stuff? Well, there's a really cool film in that shop all about him. Today you are going to steal Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix--" she smiled, he paid attention, "--it's in there on sale at guess what?"

"Seven quid."

"Give that man a prize-- You're going to step in there, grab it and meet me over there. Okay?" Jane said pointing to the doorway of Next.

"Sure," Richard said unconvincingly and began to walk towards the door of HMV.

"Err Richie."

"Yeah?" Jane scowled at him sweetly and stepped over towards him, before pressing herself up to his body and sifting her hands through his pockets.

"One wallet-- One set of keys, you can keep them-- One mobile phone and-- Oh yes, a load of shrapnel. This is mine until you get back, okay off you go," he bit his tongue.

The bite did enough, as he walked away he felt a weird mixture of humiliation and slight arousal. His head was swimming; sometimes he wished he was a bit poorer, then he wouldn't have the free time to go about stealing things like this. He paced into the shop and went upstairs to the DVD section of the store. It took him less than a minute to find what he was after. Walk the Line, it was there sitting on the shelf, on sale for seven pounds. He surveyed the section.

A short moment later, he quickly made his way down the stairs, on reaching the bottom floor he noticed the HMV worker. He was stood in the doorway filling a promotions stand adjacent to it. He wasn't looking at him, but he'd see him if he walked out with it, and he looked like a fast runner.

Richard walked gingerly to a shelf filled with T-Shirts just a few feet from to the door, he pretended to look through them. He could see Jane outside, she was in hysterics. The worker finally wandered away from the doors towards another fixture he'd been assigned to. It seemed like forever had passed, but it was now time.

Richard made his move, he walked towards the door. He knew he'd have to run as these products were alarm protected. On reaching the units beside the door he sprinted outside, the alarm bellowed into life and shoppers looked on nosily, unsure of what was happening.

A HMV employee followed the thief to the door, but didn't get any further as Richard disappeared into the crowds of people out shopping. He noticed Jane running beside him vaguely but knew this would be a lost cause. Richard and Jane didn't stop running until they had gone through another five streets, finally coming to rest in a cafe named Acropolis.

They were safe, nobody would look for them in here, nobody had been close enough to keep track of them anyway. Jane felt proud of Richard's well executed theft, she allowed her breath to settle and then eagerly spoke.

"That's my guy, let me see it."

"There you go," Richard said.

"Wild Things-- Ten pound?" Jane said looking at the prize.

"I guess we can miss seven, eight and nine quid can't we?"

"No-- You play by the rules. Go back and do it again."

"They'll be crawling with suspicious folks."

"They won't expect you to show up again will they you idiot. Take it back--" Richard hid his smile, he liked the irony of the DVD he'd found. The title matched her cheek for cheek.

"Can I choose Zavvi instead?"

"If you must, but I would like Walk the Line. Don't you remember that was the first film we saw together at the pictures. Doesn't it mean anything to you?"

"Does it to you?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact it does. I do love you."

"Then let's stop this mad shit, it's no good for us. We don't need this stuff, I can go and buy it for you. I've had enough, come on. I love you Jane, but you gotta show me some, I don't want to carry on like this. I know you're cool, hip and sassy but there's no need for it all the time. I just want to go home and get into a nice warm bed with you, and do stuff like everyone else," he could see she found it hard to compromise, she stared at the table for a moment.

"I want one more thievery session Rich," she said, lifting her eyes to his, "one more, and then we can go home, if that'll make you happy. Something big though, to make up for the game being cut short. I won't ask for anything else."

"What d'you want?"

"Go buy me Walk the Line, meet me back here. I'll think of something, don't be gone yonks," Jane's smile had diminished, but he knew she was alright. There was a touch of kleptomania about her, she just couldn't help herself. Richard hoped he was doing that for her, it meant a lot to him to be able to look after her.

He wanted to please her, he knew this insatiable appetite for theft wasn't right, but he'd do it once more if made her happy. He smiled at her and gave her a kiss, she returned it. She wasn't angry, just a little upset.

She knew she was nasty and often heartless. It was a facade to her, something to make her feel good in the morning, it gave her a different outlook about herself. She seemed to fit into her own little world perfectly, she loved the ease of it all.

It wasn't meant to last, and she knew it. This sort of thing would eventually break her, it'd show her up as nothing but shallow. She didn't like that label and Richard could see it, maybe that's why she returned the kiss instead of recoiling. She was thanking him for being as patient as he could and still coming through as the loving, caring man he was. One more thing would be fine, she finally felt ready to let go of her silly habits.

* * * * *​

"You stole that," Jane said.

"Yeah, well you did ask me to. Sorry for messing around on that one."

"It's all right."

"Have you thought of the big thing you want me to rob?" She hesitated.

"I have."

"What is it?"

Jane looked at the film on the table, Joaquin Phoenix stood with a guitar slung over his shoulders. She felt solemn and happy at the same time, she had never realised what she wanted. Now she knew, stealing was no fun. Not anymore, she wanted this film, not like this, but she'd keep it because Richard had done this for her.

"It's strange?" Jane said.

"What is?"

"This. It's stranger than Charlie Chaplin coming third in a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest. It's stranger than that man with two heads."

"What are you talking about?"

"I don't want you to steal anything. You've stolen the biggest thing of all, and it was never on sale."

"What's that?"

Jane looked up, tears looked like they were ready to escape, Richard would never have thought she could amass them. Her hair swayed gently, her eyes perforated the space between them, her fragrance lingered on. Richard knew what she was talking about, he just wanted to hear her say it. If she did he'd step across the table and gather her up, if she didn't he still would.

"My heart," Richard stared at her for a couple of seconds before stepping over to Jane's side.

"I'm sorry for being such a bitch. I don't know what I've been on lately," she said as she clung to Richard's shoulders, "I don't want to be like this any more, I know it's wrong. It's just, it was fun, it gave me a purpose, and I could share it with you," she felt ashamed more than anything else. It stung at her. She was amazed that she hadn't cried, it felt unavoidable half a minute earlier.

"I know sweetheart. I could say loads of stuff but you've kinda choked me up-- What do you say we forget it all, go home and stick that DVD on? We haven't done that much damage."

"That's a good idea," Jane said as they released each other.

Jane and Richard walked slowly to the door of the cafe, their hands held in each other's tightly. In Jane's bag there were two newly stolen DVDs.

As they got to the door, something came over Richard, and he didn't know why. Jane's hand left his as she exited the building first, Richard stopped behind her and turned to the empty table next to him. Nothing was on it except for salt and pepper dispensers. He looked back to the food service counter, and then back to the table.

Why not? he thought, his hands swiftly reaching out to pick the two little dispensers up. Grains of salt slowly filled his right pocket, as he opened the door and stepped out into the warm afternoon air. He smiled as he took Jane's hand, pleased to be with the woman whose heart he had so merrily stolen.
 
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SuiGeneris

blue 3
To be honest - I'm really torn with this short story. At the beginning, I didn't like it at all, it seemed really artificial, but as I read I kind've got into it. Now that I've finished it I'm just kinda stuck in the middle somewhere.

The first four paragraphs were mega melodramatic to me. They just didn't flow together for me, but again that's just my perspective, I'm sure someone here will disagree.

Overall, I think it's an interesting piece. I mean, it's not necessarily a profound statement, but I like the main idea. I think part of my problem with it was the wording, I understand that phrases like "Scowled sweetly" were meant to convey the duality of how he saw her, but at the same time it just offsets (can't think of a better word) the reader.

You also changed perspective towards the end which was kind've confusing.

I could go on a bit, but this is supposed to be a discussion about addressing conflict eh?

------------

I think you kind've mislead us a little bit in the post by saying there is conflict between the two characters in this story. I think the primary conflict in this is the internal struggle of "richard." There really is no true conflict between the two characters besides "but I don't wanna...."

I think the short story expressed the internal conflict within Richard pretty well. I think it started off a little melo-dramatic, but that's unfortunately very common with short stories, especially romance.

Expressing conflict in stories without spoon feeding the reader can be a little difficult. I think the greater you develop the character the easier it becomes. I tend to try and get the reader to really visualize and understand some central part of my character before initializing conflict (or atleast completely immersing my character into the conflict.)

That's just my writing style and what seems to work for me. How I achieve that in my writing varies a lot. Sometimes I start with the usual "Insert descriptive paragraph A,B and C" other times I'll throw them into a side-conflict (They get attacked by someone) that helps define them as a character...etc.

There are a million ways to create and demonstrate that conflict, each writer needs to find they way that works for them, it's the "thumb print" of writers so to speak.
 
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