Every story ever written contains conflict of some sort-a moral dilemma, a physical threat, a relationship at odds. Overcoming a struggle, facing a challenge- it’s just what fictional characters do. Without the opposition, the conflict, there would be no “story”, not one worth reading, most readers say.
As a reader, and most certainly as a writer, I know this. But I face my own challenge when it comes to writing about conflicts and obstacles in my stories, because in my “real” life, I don’t seek out conflict. Drama and near-catastrophes are just not my thing. I try to face business and personal challenges in an analytical way, as much as possible.
And today I learned I am not alone- I read several tweets in a conversation along the lines of, “ I get my drama from reading books. I don’t want it in my real life.”
I totally understood. My natural inclination is to view obstacles as problems to be solved, preferably as quickly and efficiently as possible, or to be avoided in the first place. But it is a delicious, not-so-guilty pleasure to watch someone else go through it, when they are fictional characters. But could this also be the reason Reality TV shows, especially the ones with plenty of arguing or competition, are so popular? “Real” people with “Real” problems, hanging it all out there for the world to see. (What? Of course they are not staged….are they?)
So how do writers set aside their “natural inclinations”, and conjure up all those terrible, nasty things that happen in good stories? That’s where imagination comes in. All that drama we want to avoid in real life, just throw it in! Your character has a phobia about heights? Guess he’ll be skydiving! She doesn’t want kids? Oops! She just adopted quintuplets!
You get the picture. This all reminds me, though, of the three-hanky speech I heard at the Romance Writers of America conference in Atlanta a few months ago. Best-selling, award-winning author Kristan Higgins was the featured speaker at one of the luncheons, and though she made us chuckle at the beginning of her talk, by the end, nearly the whole room was in tears. It was a heart-felt, touching speech about how Romance novels have affected her personally. The part that spoke to my heart most was when she described how reading Romance novels helped her to cope during particularly painful time in her life. The fictional characters would go through horrible, awful situations; relationships would fall apart; there was sorrow, and sometimes even death…but by the end of the book, all would be well again. It is that Happily-Ever-After that keeps us believing that there is hope, no matter what we have to face.
We may not be able to avoid drama completely in our daily lives, but perhaps books, movies, TV shows, and even the lyrics of songs…can help us get through it. I know life would be a lot worse if all we had to deal with was REAL drama!
How about you? Do you prefer your drama to be real, or imaginary?