Conflict (or why I eat ice cream)
This month our topic is conflict. In the practical sense, conflict is something I think about a lot in my work – how the character’s inner demons set them up for conflict on all levels. Take a character with a fear of abandonment, for example… My job, as the writer, is to figure out why that person has that fear. What, in their past, helped nurture and feed it?
Next, I figure out how that fear can play out in other aspects of that person’s life. Maybe, for example, he pushes people away so that no one can ever leave him. Or, perhaps he chooses the wrong partners so he doesn’t ever risk getting too attached.
I take lots and lots – and lots - of notes on how that fear can play out in the character’s actions, friendships, relationships, career development… How can it spill out into their living situation? Or their habits and insecurities…? One with a fear of abandonment, for example, might also fear showing vulnerability, revealing too much of themselves... They might have shallow relationships, and their conversations might stay at the surface level. This character might also have developed habits to help compensate for a lack of closeness. What are those habits? How can I show them, organically, in my work?
I ask myself what this character’s average day looks like, as well as when things might get really dark and scary for him.
Conflict = the character against their inner demons but also against the exterior world.
But, as writers, in our stories is not the only place we find conflict. Being a creative person is hard work, and I’m always grateful when other authors/writers/musicians/artists share some of their own inner conflicts; it’s nice to know I’m not (we’re not) alone.
Here is partial list of some of the artistic conflicts I’ve seen, read about, heard about, or experienced over the last year:
1. Conflict with the self: Feeling as though one will never be as good as “x,” or that their “career” has tanked, or that they are (or will be) a complete and utter failure in this business.
2. Conflict with the self: Feeling confident one’s publisher is probably disappointed or going to be disappointed with sales/reviews/ratings/edits/rewrites/subsequent books or book ideas/sales (intentionally mentioned twice).
3. Conflict with the self: Feeling sure that no one will buy one’s book ever/again – not an editor nor a reader.
4. Conflict with the self: Feeling as though one has wasted their time trying to write/publish/produce/sell “x” when they could’ve been doing “y.”
5. Conflict with the self: Feeling as though one has sacrificed the time they could’ve spent with family, or on relationships, or climbing a corporate ladder somewhere, for their art or their writing.
6. Conflict with the self: Feeling as though the art one is producing is lackluster/unoriginal/uninspired/worthless.
7. Conflict with motivation: “Why can’t I write when I have so much to do, so many expectations for myself, so much pressure? Plus, “Author X” is doing well. Why can’t I?”
8. Conflict with TV: “There’s so much eye candy on Netflix, but I should really work, but I don’t feel like it.”
9. Conflict with food: “If I just have a small snack, maybe I can get through that next big scene (or maybe not).”
10. Conflict with house chores: “What is seriously wrong with me? Why does the laundry take up half of the basement?"
But, as a writer, there’s something I never have conflict with: Do I really want that hot fudge sundae?
Yes, always, I do. Every time.
And, do I still want to keep writing, despite all of the above?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think I could ever stop.
Feel free to add your inner conflict below. In the meantime, happy creating (and don't forget to indulge in a little - or a lot of - ice cream too).