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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conflict over conflict


A local newspaper in my area is sponsoring a pet calendar contest and scoring big bucks with votes for a quarter apiece. 85 initial entries will be voted on until only twelve remain. 6012 votes has garnered first place for a cute little Yorkie. That honorary position cost voters $1503. Now, I love my cat and dog, and I entered pictures of them in the contest, but I don't have nearly enough of a competitive spirit--or willingness to spend my money to assure that they'll be in that top twelve--to contribute more votes.

I discovered early on in my writing life that aspects of my personality, good and bad, bled over into the characters I created. The not having a competitive spirit for instance. Perhaps because I never have played team sports or been involved in an activity that requires a driving need to win is why I simply don't have it. Now, competing with myself, that I do. Every day I challenge myself to complete goals with my writing, editing, exercising, whatever needs to get done at my bookshop, even down to learning the next line of a piano piece I'm working on.

Not having that competitve drive stems from an abhorence of conflict. Maintaining the peace and avoiding turbulence goes back to forever ago and has stayed with me all my life. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when, in Water Music, the first book I wrote, I struggled to the point of tears to have my characters at conflict with each other. Such a vital component of a tale and I battled with it. I knew conflict equalled drama, had to have it, but I didn't want my protags angry with each other, or be shaken by unkind words or overhear a hurtful remark, even though I knew all would work out in the end. Now, inner conflict I could do without going through a case of tissues. Developing a character at war with him/her self to overcome something that holds them back from gaining what they want, or goal they must reach is not a problem. But two characters arguing or not speaking to each other because they're angry is so difficult for me to write. Spending time on such a scene alters my mood for the rest of the day.

Since writing that first book I've learned there are many ways to create conflict without characters dragging out the battle axes. It's born out of human characteristics and events that don't have to be soul shattering: misunderstandings, man against nature, man against himself, revenge, self-preservation, greed, duty, love, and self-discovery. Any of these can work as a source of conflict but it needs to suit the character. Having a greedy hero or vengeful heroine are traits I'd avoid. I like to reserve those for the subplots and secondary characters. I can give the bad guys all sorts of conflicts without batting an eye or dropping a tear.

My vote is for love, peace and understanding any and every day, but I know for the sake of drama I have to have conflict amongst my pages. How easy or difficult is it for you to build conflict in your stories? Do you get a knot in your stomach like I do when your book characters are at odds with each other, even though you know you'll soothe the hurt feelings in a later chapter? If you have to mentally prepare to write such scenes, what do you do?

2 comments:

Paris said...

Polly,

I was always the peacemaker in my family and conflict was always difficult for me too.

Now I ask myself: What's the worst that could happen to these two lovely people? The entire time I'm making it happen I know I'm giving them an HEA but like everyone else, they're going to have to work for it! It's the only way I can do this:-)

Sandy said...

Polly,

In different periods of my life, I have been the fighter for what I believe in and at other times the peacemaker.

You just have to choose what you're characters are going to be. Just plain stubborness or seeing the other side from one viewpoint can cause a lot of conflict. lol I know all about that because I always explain the other side even when I agree with the person talking. Grin.

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