I’m taking a content leap on today’s blog. Putting aside my fixation thus far with high fashion, dragons, and flowering trees, I’d like to focus on ORGANIZATION THEORY. Now, hold on, there, fast-fingers. Don’t click to another site.
In the spirit of ‘write what you know’, I’ve sifted through some of the drearier theory gunk to pull out a couple of gems. Today’s spotlight is due Chester Barnard. Decades ago, Mr. Barnard proposed that a person . . . (he said ‘man’, but let’s presume he didn’t intend to exclude half of the population) . . . a person would obey any order given by a ‘superior’ as long as he or she:
1 –understood the order
2 –believed the order consistent with organizational purpose
3 – viewed carrying out the order as compatible with his/her self-interest
4 – was physically and mentally able to comply
In ethics classes, we use this concept to ask how seemingly kind, well-intentioned people could carry out orders resulting in the horrendous abuse of humans, animals, or environmental treasures. But Mr. Barnard’s Zone of Indifference offers writers a way to take a hero or heroine through a series of decisions or events and drop them into a knuckle-buster of a dilemma.
So, let’s pretend . . . .
. . . our heroine, Betsy, carries out a series of tasks in her role as personal assistant to a San Francisco entrepreneur. A week later, she learns the company’s main rival dies in a boating accident. Our highly intelligent heroine recognizes a pattern – and the role that her efficiency played in a murder plot.
Being a moral person, Betsy agonizes at discovering the deadly outcome of her competence — if only she’d paid more attention to ‘why’ of the tasks. Betsy decides she is complicit, however innocently, and seeks justice.
Of course, her murderous boss disagrees; threats ensue. Toss in your favorite alpha male cliché (cynical detective or playboy son changing to avenge father’s death), season the plot with descriptions of his absolute male physical perfection (this to writer’s taste, I default to tall, dark, and parahuman). Sprinkle in a few hormones and you’ve a tasty character arc packed with orgasms, angst, and atonement. (I dare you to say that quickly three times.)
C’mon, play with Mr. Barnard’s Zone of Indifference.
What three innocuous steps could your favorite character take to lead them into a delicious sort of conflict?
How could you create a more sympathetic antagonist by working backward on this model?