Let's start by reviewing the way we've worked over poor Johnny the status-seeking pre-med student. (He would object to being called "poor Johnny." He deserves better than to be manipulated and exposed by a bunch of starving artists. Really, who the hell do we think we are? lol)
We started with a few key pieces of external behavior and worked inward to get to his core emotional need.
We used that core emotional need to predict simple, controllable behavior.
We used that core emotional need and companion needs to demonstrate how seemingly contradictory behavior can be consistent with that character.
We examined self-image as a facet of emotional need and as a predictor of behavior.
We looked at how Johnny's desire to hide pieces of his personality might influence behavior in a common social situation with zero conflict.
And this has all been leading up to this post. Now we'll look at how to exploit core conflicts.
What we haven't done yet is create a second character with an external goal which puts him in direct conflict with Johnny. Remember, the pretty party girl was not a developed character. We let you all stand in for her and imagine how you would respond to Johnny. We didn't give her her own set of needs and goals. This is why we need Drago now.
Drago is a survivor. He grew up in a region of Europe torn apart by civil war. The wars left his remote village intact for the first few years -- his village is so remote, in fact, that the communist government never could figure out how to get electricity to them. They didn't import much of anything, but they did a little bartering with neighboring villages. As a child, Drago sometimes walked the three hours through the mountains to the next village with a load of homemade cheese in a pack on his back. He enjoyed the return trip more because he could spend his time in anticipation of his village's excitement to see what he managed to get in trade for the cheese.
One day when Drago was making this trip, rebel soldiers came to his village, collected all the men and boys, and slaughtered them. Then they moved on to the next village and did the same. Drago survived only because he was on a mountain path that the soldiers didn't know about. Drago, his mother, and all the other surviving women and girls were taken in by the UN, moved to a refugee camp in another part of Europe, and eventually were settled in the US.
Drago's self-image is "survivor," and his core emotional need is justice. He wants to be a doctor because he wants to right the wrongs committed by bad men, brutal soldiers. He has watched his mother struggle to adapt to her new environment. She may have been the best cheese-maker in the mountains, but her lack of exposure to modern living has made it impossible for her to even find work as a cleaning woman. This has also made Drago hyper-protective.
Drago, Meet Johnny
Drago got a scholarship to college, and he needs a scholarship if he's going to go to med school. He and Johnny have both applied for a prestigious internship that would pay their tuition and expenses. In addition to these benefits, the intern would be allowed to work during school breaks under the mentorship of a famous surgeon at an internationally-renowned NYC hospital. This surgeon is heavily involved in Doctors Without Borders.
The selection committee uses a precise calculus to determine the winner of the internship/scholarship. In the event of a tied score, the selection committee interviews the two candidates, and they have lunch together with the famous surgeon. (Let's give her a name. Dr. Cannon. Assume she's a placeholder character much like the pretty girl at the party. You may stand in for her if you want to.)
Johnny and Draco are meeting each other and Dr. Cannon at this lunch for the first time. The lunch is at a white-tablecloth place. Hushed music. Heavy silverware. Well-trained waiters.
They have an external conflict. Obviously. They're competing for a scholarship.
But here is your assignment. Just by being in the room together, even without the external conflict, these two will be projecting needs, values, goals, and hiding aspects of their shadow selves. Your job is to think through how they interact on this level. Consider:
-- What do they see in each other that makes each of them feel uncomfortable about themselves?
-- How do they each handle that discomfort?
-- What do they see in each other that makes each of them feel good about themselves?
-- How to they each handle those positive feelings?
-- How does the environment impact their interaction? What does it highlight about their interpersonal conflict? What do they order for their meals, and why?
-- Finally, how do they try to control their self-image to each other and to Dr. Cannon?
AFTER you've considered these questions, write the scene. But do think about the core conflicts first. Don't settle for what is easy and obvious. Dig deeper. Think it through. You might find some surprises along the way.
There are no wrong answers to an exercise like this. No two writers will handle the same core conflicts in exactly the same way. Your interpretation of character and behavior is part of what gives you a unique voice.
By the way, Drago's story is real, except that he did not survive. Author Kate Rothwell a/k/a Summer Devon works with the women who did survive that day. Look here for photos of the sock booties they make and sell. Look here for details on ordering their handiwork. They make great holiday gifts. Just sayin.