Unconflicted

I’m a peace keeper. I’ve always known I was a peace keeper, but it was never something I thought about or even acknowledged until my kids became teens and conflict in the family got more pronounced. Of course there has been conflict between the kids since Vicky could talk, but teenage conflict includes parents. It was Alex’s Freshman year when I cognitively realized how much I hate conflict. I instinctively do whatever I have to do to squash it. The trouble with that is it doesn’t teach anything. If I give in to keep the peace, I create monsters, and monsters are one of the things I hate more than conflict.

When I went to the Quad-Cities Christian Writers’ Conference last spring, one of the comments I got was that I didn’t have conflict in a scene. Since I’ve started editing “Hope And A Future” I’ve realized that my hatred of conflict has infiltrated my writing. One of my writer friends who read the first several pages suggested that a character be cut since she don’t serve much of a purpose. My first thought was, “I can’t cut Charlotte! She’s the source of conflict!”

Here’s a test, writer friends. If you cut one antagonist, do you still have conflict? I had one Nellie Olson who moved up her wedding and moved away in the second or third chapter. After Charlotte left, everyone played nicely together and the conflict was confined to internal (struggle with faith and grief) or external (freak snow storm, falling trees). There’s no fighting. The bickering is confined to the children.

Then there’s Frank, my wildcard. He pops in and performs admirably when I need him, and then he disappears. I have whole chapters, probably multiple chapters, with no Frank. His name might be mentioned, but he’s nowhere to be found. He must be off somewhere with the sheep. It would be easy enough to cut him. His scenes could be rewritten without too much trouble. Or I could rewrite him, make him younger so he becomes the spoiled late-in-life child. He wouldn’t be as obnoxious as Nellie Olson, but maybe I could make him a 9 year old Albert Ingalls with a dash of Laura. He can’t be too spoiled; the story is set in the back country, and everyone who can walk has chores to do. I could make him more mischievous, though, maybe prone to whining and pointing out to his brother and sisters (who are raising him) that they’re not his parents. That will take more rewriting. I’d have to thread him in. But it would give me conflict that’s more tangible instead of throwing accidents and natural disasters at my group of Care Bears.

I’m glad I figured this out before the conference.

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This entry was posted in Writing.

6 comments on “Unconflicted

  1. Jean says:

    I have a polar bear adapting to life among humans who experiences no conflict at all with this massive cultural change from Arctic survival to living in suburbia. It sounds like we’re experiencing the same growing pains. I, too, will try to avoid conflict at all costs, and when I do engage in it, I do it badly. I’m not surprised to encounter the problem in my writing, but solving it is tougher.

    My current solution was to go through scene by scene and note in a one liner (sentence or phrase — doesn’t matter) what the conflict is in that scene. When there isn’t any (or enough), I highlight that line and keep going. I’ve gotten that done; now I’m going back to deal with the scenes that were missing conflict, and I see opportunities to make the story so much stronger.

    I’m wondering if Charlotte moving away is the best course of action. She’s a strong disapproving source in the opening of the story. How can she make it tougher for your characters? (We’d all like to write the annoying or disagreeable people out of our lives, but it just doesn’t work that way — usually.) You have a good point about Frank, though. He doesn’t necessarily have to be what you’ve described, but what if he were cut more from Charlotte’s cloth than someone else’s? Kind of the Alex (Michael J. Fox) character in Family Ties where he’s the outlier to the family norm. The family loves him, they get along, but he’s just not in step with them. Maybe he’s significantly more or less open minded about things than the rest of the family.

  2. wendyblanton says:

    I knew we were kindred spirits! πŸ™‚

    The trouble with the current Charlotte is that she’s a martyr. She wants everything to be her way, and if people consistently go against her wishes, she takes her ball and goes home. That’s why she moves up the wedding. The other part of the equation is that I need her at her husband’s plantation so Philipe can find Sadie. I just looked at a map, though, and she would be 30-45 minutes away by horse, so maybe she could come visit.

  3. Jean says:

    I live with one of those. Infuse her with a wounded, “I was only trying to help” whenever anyone objects to her, and you will have replicated someone near and dear to me. πŸ˜‰

    I didn’t know that second detail — moving the wedding up to achieve that makes more sense now. With a three hour round trip, she’s not going to visit very often, but I’m sure there are times when a martyr’s help with be indispensable, lending itself to some conflict.

  4. Jean says:

    She could come for a short visit, and unseasonable weather could strand her there much longer than planned…

  5. wendyblanton says:

    It sounds like perhaps the Createslate team should arrange a Conflict-A-Thon somehow. Skype maybe? Or through Google+? Skype has a certain pull for me because we’re becoming such good friends, but I don’t know what the others sound like!

  6. Jean says:

    There is the Google+ Hangout I suppose. You and I could do the iPad Facetime (which I am still resisting).

    I’m just so up and down while I’m working I’m not sure how effective I’d be. I’ll work for a couple minutes, get up to take care of something, come back, work for a few minutes, go outside and do something for ten minutes, etc.

    Audio/Video just isn’t a format I embrace. It isn’t out of the question, but it’s not something I’m leaping to try either. I admit it can be a good alternative to a face-to-face meet up.

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