Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Nice ... or Not (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

Do I avoid conflict? Oh, hell yes! I was taught all my life to avoid it. Like Janet, I'm a people pleaser, the peace maker. I try to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable at all times, try not to upset anyone ever. Does that work in fiction? Oh, hell no! Whether you're writing an action-packed swashbuckling adventure
or something more sedate like a literary, character-driven coming of age story
it won't work if everything looks like this all the time:
There's no story there. Story is all about resolving conflict, finding solutions to problems, working through relationships. We engage in story to live vicariously through characters who learn something along the way. 

So what do you do if you're an expert conflict-avoider like me? How do you write stories that work, stories with conflict? You check yourself, constantly.

I was writing a piece the other day and things were starting to look bleak for my main character. So what did I do? I took pity on her and wrote in something fun and exciting with no conflict. Seriously. And then I laughed at myself. I gave myself a little pep talk, "Hey, you're really sweet for wanting something good for her right now. And I hear you that she feels like she really needs something fun and easy. But this story will be a whole lot better if that part comes later." So I hacked off the fun and easy and sent the poor character back to the mines. It's okay. She'll thank me for it later.

Writing conflict can be hard and scary. And it can feel so mean and counter-intuitive. But it has to happen. So if you're at all like me, and you want everyone to feel good all the time, get in the habit of checking your writing, look for the places where you hand your character a crutch, where you try to sneak them a snack when they've been sent to bed without dinner (I used to do that for my brother, lol -- which is fine for brothers, but not for characters!) Your characters will grow and so will you as a writer. And in the end, everyone will be happier! Especially your readers.



3 comments:

  1. Well said, Renee. Though it's against my nature, I'm always looking for ways to make things more difficult for my characters. Sometimes I feel so mean.

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  2. Not even a cookie and a glass of milk? :D

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  3. Well, maybe just this once... wait, no, stop it! No cookies and milk!

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