When we left off last week Mary was in a bad situation. She was concerned about the well-being of her family and their financial woes. This was compounded by the possibility of losing her job which was their sole source of income. But then the stakes got decidedly higher as three armed men entered the bank. Concerns over long-term issues suddenly evaporated as one of the men stuck a gun in her face and started barking out instructions.
“Fill one bag with the money in the drawers,” the man said. For a second Mary was immobilized by fear and just stood there staring at him. “LET’S GO!” he shouted and she took one of the bags and hurried to the first teller window.
As she was doing this the other two robbers herded the patrons and bank personnel into a corner of the lobby. One of the men began collecting cell phones and personal items while the other man grabbed the two remaining bags off the counter and went into the vault.
Mary set the bag on the floor and opened the first drawer. As she removed the bills from the tray the man slammed his hand on the counter. “Quit screwing around,” he said. “Just dump everything in the bag. Come on, move it.”
She took the till out of the drawer and bent over to put it in the bag. In her haste a bundle of fifties fell into the trash can under the counter. The man didn’t notice and she left it there. As she moved to the second window she realized that her position was blocking the view of the cameras and the robber on the other side of the counter couldn’t see what she was doing as she bent to put the till in the bag.
Mary realized she had just discovered a way to stash away several thousand dollars. If she could figure out a way to get the “trash” out of the bank later no one would know she had the money. The bank would assume the robbers had it all and the robbers wouldn’t know the difference.
She moved to the next teller window and removed the till…
So, what’s your impression of Mary now? Faced with an opportunity in the midst of a chaotic situation she made a decision to do something that she never would’ve considered otherwise – basically, rob the bank where she worked. Did this decision change your opinion of her? What about your interest in the story? Are you more interested in what will happen next? In ten paragraphs we expanded a single internal conflict into something much more complex. If we had devoted those ten paragraphs to Mary standing at the teller’s window, worrying about her financial problems, would you still be reading?
By adding conflict we created a moral dilemma in addition to the threat of physical violence. We added tension and suspense that will extend beyond the actual bank robbery itself. We also greatly expanded Mary’s character. What she decided and how she reacted to conflict added depth to her character. What if she changed her mind about taking the money? How would that affect your impression of her?
In my next article I’ll explain how to actually construct a plot by alternating between the main plot and subplots and how to use those subplots to create conflict that feeds back into the main plot. But the keys to remember at this point are that you must have conflict and internal conflict provides depth to your characters and generates a more powerful response from your reader.