Last week I binge-read the first five books of the Pretty Little Liars series. They’re about four high school juniors in a super-rich community (someone’s grandmother leaves all her grandkids $2 million and no one blinks), and the problems they have being popular. Totally not the kind of thing I usually read. I don’t even remember how they appeared on my radar.
They’re very high tension, so I kept getting dragged through them. There’s a mystery about what happened in the past, plus a mystery about what’s going on now, plus a zillion other conflicts. I only managed to slow down and get more writing done because I made myself read the spoilers in the Wikipedia article.
Kelly posted some good thoughts about conflict last year, defining macro (world-level), micro (interpersonal), and sub micro (internal) conflict. The Pretty Little Liars books have the last two dials turned up to max. The world-level conflict is pretty high in the context of the girls’ high school lives, but the planet isn’t going to get blown up or anything. However, the author brings in every possible interpersonal conflict. No one has a relationship with anyone that doesn’t have some kind of tension in it. (Or if they do, it’s not mentioned, which is pretty much the same thing.) Not with parents, not with teachers, not with friends. There’s cheating (academic and romantic), bulimia, shoplifting, stalking, bullying on multiple levels… The only time their friends or siblings are mentioned are when they have a fight or another conflict. Only one teacher is mentioned, and it’s because one of the girls sleeps with him. It’s exhausting (think after school special meets soap opera), but it keeps me turning pages.
I wouldn’t want everything I read to have this much conflict in it—I said something before in a post I can’t find about how it feels like being dragged through a foreign city by a travel guide who won’t let me stop to enjoy myself—but it’s a good writing lesson about how to find conflict everywhere.