Stubborn Objects (by Emily Whitman)
After all, what is conflict but two stubborn objects rasping against each other, refusing to give way? It's like firemaking with flint and steel. That energy has to go somewhere. It flies off as a spark. In our books, those sparks fall on the little nests of bone-dry twigs and grasses we've piled up--family conflicts, expectations, the need to belong--and, whoosh! Story!
Friction creates heat creates fire.
Those two stubborn objects can be characters with mutually exclusive needs. If one person gets their heart's desire, the other is screwed. In my book Radiant Darkness, Persephone's need for love sparks against Demeter's need to protect her daughter. Those conflicting needs almost destroy the world.
We love conflict in our books. But in our lives...
I'm struck, looking over the posts for this month, how many of us avoid personal conflict. We were raised to make nice. To get along. We were taught it's wrong to make people uncomfortable, let alone angry. When we write, we finally let that conflict out. Not conflict for its own sake, but conflict when it's necessary to stand up for ourselves and speak out about what we believe in. Daring to create sparks.
Speaking up can change the world. Take a look at microaggressions.com. Really. Look. I learned about this from the amazing Sara Ryan. Here's a little cut-and-paste from how they describe what they're about:
this project is a response to “it’s not a big deal” - “it” is a big deal. ”it” is in the everyday. ”it” is shoved in your face when you are least expecting it. ”it” happens when you expect it the most. ”it” is a reminder of your difference. ”it” enforces difference. ”it” can be painful. ”it” can be laughed off. ”it” can slide unnoticed by either the speaker, listener or both. ”it” can silence people. ”it” reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed. ”it” matters because these relate to a bigger “it”: a society where social difference has systematic consequences for the “others.”
but “it” can create or force moments of dialogue.