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Sorry, I Can't Hear You ...

Conflict occurs between characters when there is a breakdown in communication. You don’t need a broken cell phone or a disabled internet to create problems for your characters. When someone’s life or emotional welfare is at stake, breakdowns in communication are treacherous. 

Use communication failures to ratchet the tension and create obstacles that are resolved in future scenes. 

1) Mental block.

If Jane or Sally offers an important bit of information, Dick may dismiss it outright because it doesn’t fit within his belief system. They can talk all day. It won’t matter. Use this to point Dick in the wrong direction. Later, when he is more willing to listen, their information could save the day. 

2) Different meanings.

Terms such as coward/courageous, allowed/ forbidden, acceptable/unacceptable, relationship/friendship, good/bad could have entirely different meanings for Dick, Sally, and Jane. Misunderstandings in this realm create hurt feelings, perhaps the desire for retaliation. Use this misunderstanding to turn a friend into an enemy or a helper into a hinderer. When you want to turn the story around, resolve it. 

3) Too much information.

Sometimes less really is more. The more options and information thrown at Dick, the harder it can be for him to decide or act. He can’t possibly keep it all straight. Friends and foes can later supply Dick with information he overlooked or details he forgot. Plant the seed in one scene, sprout it in another, perhaps appreciate the fully beauty of it in a third.

4) Distraction.

Dick may not listen when his mind is on something else, missing the fact that Sally or Jane offered him an important piece of the puzzle. They can later remind him of it when it is crucial, with or without the “I told you so.”

5) Time crunch.

If Dick is in a rush, he might forget to say the right thing, tell the correct people, or leave out important facts. His terse delivery may chafe. This can infuriate and confuse Sally or Jane. It could leave them unwilling to help him or create negative backlash in a future scene.

6) Emotion Commotion.

If Sally or Jane approaches Dick in a heightened state of emotion — be it anger, passion, exhaustion, sadness, or drunkenness — Dick may dismiss the content as irrational. In a later scene, you can make Dick wish he had listened.

Communication breakdowns create interpersonal conflict at scene and overall story level and believable tension between characters. Have fun with it, but make it count.

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