By Susan G. Mathis
I hate conflict. I don’t like getting into disagreements with my husband. I don’t like having a spat with a friend. As a parent, I hated the constant conflict-resolution needed when my two kids didn’t get along.
As a teacher, I didn’t enjoy being the one to break up tiffs between pubescent girls. And as a Grandma? Well, let’s just say I sometimes choose to become an ostrich. You get the idea.
So when I began writing fiction, I had a problem. Conflict is a main ingredient of a good story, and to write compelling fiction, I had to have compelling conflict that would hold the reader’s attention. But how was I going to address the very thing I was tempted to run from? I had to settle that question—and quick!
Although conflict is often present in daily life, we may overlook or ignore it. Hubby doesn’t want cereal for breakfast. Son wants to play before doing his homework. Daughter doesn’t like the way you did her hair. Colleague disagrees with a decision you made. Neighbor dislikes your dog’s barking. The list goes on and on.
When confronted with conflict, I tend to self-talk, fret, stew, worry, and struggle with sleepless nights. But those ways of dealing with conflict don’t make a good story.
Conflict is uncomfortable and most conflict just plain hurts. But that’s what keeps readers reading. Like you and me, readers want to know how others deal with conflict—how characters try, fail, try again, and finally succeed.
For advice I turned to my first two non-fiction books that deal with preparing for marriage and applied what my counselor-husband and I wrote. We had great tips and guidelines, personality types, and ways to solve difficult conflict. I applied those ideas to my characters’ lives. Bingo!
Because it’s hard for me to invent conflict when I want to avoid it, I had to be aware of this weakness. So while doing rewrites and editing, I often had to add an element of conflict or deepen it. I realized I was, indeed, running from conflict even as I wrote. Recognizing this helps me be cognizant to include the very thing I hate.
As I grow in my craft, though, I trust I will grow in this area as well.
Susan Mathis is the author of Countdown for Couples, The Re-Marriage
Adventure, and three other books. She is vice president of Christian Authors Network, founding editor of Thriving Family magazine, and former editor of twelve Focus on the Family publications. She has written hundreds of articles and also serves as a writing coach and consultant. For more, visit www.SusanGMathis.com.
Dr. MaryAnn DIorioFebruary 5, 2018 - 16 : 29 : 35
Thank you for your insightful post, Susan. I think conflict becomes a problem to us
—both in life and in fiction-writing—when we look on it as something negative. Like money, conflict, in and of itself, is neutral. It is how we handle conflict that can make it either positive or negative. Most people handle conflict destructively. In such cases, conflict becomes a source of pain. But when we handle conflict constructively, it becomes a wonderful opportunity for growth.