I Heart Conflict... in fiction at least (Stephanie Kuehnert

Though I can (and have!) break up a bar fight when necessary, I try to keep my real life as drama, conflict and confrontation free as I can. I'm so non-confrontational now that when I had to return a pair of jeans a few months ago, I truly agonized as to how I would explain to the clerk that they really hadn't fit like I thought they had in the store. Seriously, I was wigging out over it. Kind of funny considering that fifteen years ago, it seemed like every day I was in the middle of some sort of drama, arguing with someone or as a certain group of my teenage friends used to saying, "calling people on their shit." It seemed like I was constantly calling people out or getting my own shit called on. My life was pretty much nonstop conflict and drama from ages 15 to 22. There was quite a bit of it in junior high, too, actually. It was not pretty or fun, but it left me with a lot of stories, some that are heartbreaking, some that are funny (though mostly really dark funny), and some that are just good stories.

In my mid-twenties, I severed ties with the people causing the bulk of my drama, focused on finishing school and writing books. Occasionally drama pops up at work, but I try to steer clear of it and I haven't been at the center of any conflicts for years. It's definitely good for me, but dude, if my life were a book it would be boooooooring! Fortunately I have a whole sordid past to draw on and a very wide imagination, so I can live my boring happily ever after with my husband and three cats and still write books that are filled with conflict and drama.

I may avoid conflict in my real life to the best of my abilities, but I definitely don't in my fiction. My characters probably think I'm the devil. My favorite scenes to write are the ones where I am causing them agony. I really like killing characters off and writing funeral scenes. I know that sounds absolutely horrible. Part of it is catharsis (I've been to way too many funerals for people who are way too young), but another part is when I get my characters at their most raw and vulnerable, I learn the most about them and my writing breakthroughs happen. There are two death/funeral scenes in the bartender book and they might have been my favorites to write. Getting those conflicts down on the page really got me into my flow.

However some conflict is easier to write than others. The very last scene that I polished and fixed, like in the copyedits stage of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE was when Louisa is remembering the terrible thing that happened to her when she was sixteen that haunted her so badly that she left her husband and baby years later (I don't to say exactly what it was since it is in the middle of the book and might kind of be a spoiler if you haven't read it.) I wrote that scene because something somewhat similar had happened to me. It was definitely catharsis, but it also really hurt to go back there. There were a lot of scenes in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA that were hard to write because of that as well. For those of you familiar with the book, Maya's ballad gave me the most trouble. You see as much as I like to torment my characters because it helps me get to know who they really are at the core AND it makes for an exciting and interesting story, I have to walk down those dark roads with them and sometimes reopen old battle scars of my own. So maybe my love of writing conflict makes me a little bit twisted, but it's also because I like survival stories, so I put my characters through the paces and see where we come out in the end.

I also would like to make a couple of announcements. I've been writing a lot about my own teenage conflict and drama lately and if you are interested in reading about it, there are a couple of places where you can. I have an essay in DEAR BULLY an anthology that just came out that has 70 authors talking about their experience with bullying. You can get the lowdown about it here. It's a really intense and beautiful book that I am proud to be a part of. I've also started writing for a super cool new website for teenage girls called ROOKIE. I'll be writing a lot of my own angst and conflicts here and my first piece is about ways cope with stress and bad days (perhaps after a nasty conflict with someone in your life). To celebrate the release of DEAR BULLY and the launch of ROOKIE, I'm running a contest on my blog. You can win DEAR BULLY, my books and more and it goes til the end of September, so please enter.

Okay now you can feel free to be honest if you think I'm a terrible person for enjoying throwing my characters in the midst of terrible conflict, or if you are a writer, are you like me in enjoying the torture?


  1. Dear Bully sounds amazing! I'll have to check it out.

    I'd love to say my life is a drama-free zone, but with four kids...yeah, 'nuf said. lol

    Great post!!

  2. I for one am all for putting my characters into trees and throwing large, pointy things at them until they crawl down bruised and battered and stronger for it.

  3. If I'm tempted to cut my characters some slack I'll remember this post. Go get 'um, Steph!

  4. Hee hee, exploringeliza, I love the way you put it! Yes to that!

    salarsen, I hope you enjoy Dear Bully and yeah I can imagine there is a lot of drama in your house!

    Jan, glad to be an inspiration in your torturing your characters ;) Now they will hate me too, lol!


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