The Parent/Adult and Child roles and how they serve in our writing.

In fiction, creating conflict is key in producing a great story, one that readers will find difficult, if not impossible, to put down. Described as a crash between at least two sides, or a struggle for power, property or something else, conflict reaps drama.  Without drama there is no interest.  My goal and the goal of most writers is to ultimately change the world or an aspect of it in some way.  By connecting with readers one by one to change how they feel or think – for  the better- which dominoes outward, spreading across society faster than a cold virus during the dead of winter, we reach that goal.  And yes, we write to entertain and perhaps ultimately make some money, but that comes later.

Aristotle said that ” the idea is to create emotion and then catharsis, thus making our audience better citizens”.  By creating inner conflict that the readers relate to or sympathize with, we attain that.

In James Scott Bell’s book ” Conflict and Suspense”, he discusses this idea of Parent / Adult and Child roles as tools to help us create conflict in our dialogue.  “We tend to occupy three primary roles in life and relationships: Parent, Adult and Child (PAC).   THE PARENT is the seat of authority, the one who can “lay down the law”.  He  (or she- a’hem ) has the raw strength, from position or otherwise, to rule and then enforce his rulings.” ( Or at least in my case, to try our best!)

He continues with “THE ADULT is the objective one, the one who sees things rationally and is therefore the best one to analyze a situation. Finally, there is the CHILD.  Not rational, and not without any real power.  So what” he asks ” does the child do? Reacts emotionally. Throws tantrums to try to get his way.  Even an adult can do this”.

What Mr. Bell is so eloquently trying to say is that the writer must figure out which role each of his characters is going to play in each scene.  How are they actually acting versus how they see themselves as acting.  How will they act in order to accomplish their goals ?  He explains that writers must work that into the dialogue so that each character is assertive in that role.  But he reminds us that we must keep it tight and natural while moving our story forward.

In life, don’t we all take on each of these roles at different times, jumping from one role to another depending on the situation. Sometimes remaining in one role for a longer duration?  How many times have we gotten ourselves tangled up emotionally because of someone else taking on the child role, throwing a tantrum ( arguing irrationally, withdrawing from us, not communicating ,withholding something or a piece of themselves, etc) or even worse, because we have taken on that role of a child ourselves.

Drama comes from conflict and we have all created it or reacted to it in some way at some point capitulating us into a tragedy or  new strength or possibly both.  Personally, I have always believed strongly in  the saying “What does not kill us will make us stronger”.  This applies to our characters as well.  Conflict may lead our character to her  death, whether physical, psychological or professional, or it may make her stronger if she is victorious in her struggle , but at the very least by the end of the story the conflict will leave the reader feeling affected. And we can only hope it will be for the better, spreading quickly.

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