Monthly Archives: February 2011

Deepening Story Conflict With a Clash of Values: A Lesson from The Wizard of Oz

Savvy Writer Article #1101  By DENISE MILLER HOLMES

Most writers know that a good story has a clash between the main character and someone or something that comes against the hero. Conflict is usually thought of as two pitted against each other to achieve either the same or conflicting goals.

But, Stanley D. Williams, in his book The Moral Premise, says that the real story isn’t the external conflict. Instead, the real story is a clash of values.

We see an example of what Williams is talking about in the movie The Wizard of Oz.  In the movie, the external battle between the wicked witch and Dorothy is about who owns the ruby slippers.

Legally, the ruby slippers belong to the witch. They were her sister’s after all. But Dorothy owns them now and the witch is after Dorothy to get them.

The audience neither sympathizes with the witch (even though something rightfully hers was taken), nor do they root for her to regain possession of the slippers. Why? Because the witch is evil, the slippers are power, and no good person wants evil to gain more power.

That’s the external conflict. The internal conflict is about the lesson, the moral premise, the characters are supposed to learn—there’s no place like home. The slippers are Dorothy’s way home, and the witch is trying everything to prevent Dorothy from getting home. What’s great about home? The people are what’s great, specifically, the people you love.

From the beginning of the film, the script writers show Dorothy’s values.  We see that Dorothy truly loves her family when she meets the traveling wizard. The way he tricks her into going home is to tell her that Aunt Em is sick. She immediately forgets her fear of Toto being taken, and rushes home!

Contrast this with the scene where the witch finds her sister dead—crushed beneath Dorothy’s house. There are no tears. All the witch wants are the ruby slippers.

This scene shows us that the only thing the witch cares about is power.  People don’t matter to her. That’s what makes her scary.

So in The Wizard of Oz, a set of opposite values is presented—the belief that happiness is found through loving and attaching to people versus the opposite belief that happiness is found through shunning any attachment or love. These worldviews are shown often throughout the film in various ways and are the real conflict of the story. The external conflicts are only a result of those values.

Following The Moral Premise’s main point, there is a depth that is added to your story when, savvy Christian writer, you make sure the gold or the love interest or exposing/hiding the truth isn’t the only clash between your good guy and bad guy. Make the underlying conflict a clash of worldview—a clash of values.

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