Sunday, January 30, 2011


Friction is one of my favorite things.  A world without it would be very different, and mostly boring.  Don't believe me?

For one thing, walking wouldn't exist, since it's friction that allows us to push forward off the ground at each step.  Let's just say that without friction we wouldn't get out much.

And we wouldn't talk to each other either, since it's a form of friction that moves the sensing hairs in our ears that allow us to hear.  There's not much reason for speaking when no one can hear.

So we're talking about a world where everyone stays in one place and nobody speaks.  There are a myriad other problems (if a surface wasn't precisely level then anything placed on it -- including lunch or yourself -- would slide downhill, pencils would leave no mark on paper, you'd be unable to ever scratch an itch...), but these two alone are enough to spell boring for me.

But of course, there's another kind of friction:  the social kind.  While I would be overjoyed to do away with friction in my personal life, I wouldn't want to lose it from my writing.  Well, I don't want it for my writing (which I'd like to be a smooth and easy activity).  I want it for my story.

Most writers call this conflict, but to me the term conflict carries such negative connotations that it turns me off.  I prefer to think of it as friction.  Friction, by its definition in the field of Physics, is "a force that resists the relative motion or tendency to such motion of two bodies or substances in contact."  Substitute for bodies, the word characters, or desires, goals, needs, etc, and you have a definition of friction suitable for writing.

One of the things I especially like about it is that it refers to two bodies/characters/goals in motion.  We never want out stories to stall or stagnate, do we?  We want our conflict to be combined with forward motion that pulls the reader through the story.  With the word friction we get the sense of movement and the reluctance/resistance together.  Friction is motion (which is change) or at least the attempt, along with something/someone fighting back.

Change for our characters, change that's hindered, that's delayed, that's prevented, that's fought and won or lost or both:  that's conflict.

That's friction.

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