Month: February 2016

Where’s the conflict?

A story I wrote recently came back after some time away on submission, rejected but with several rounds of comments. I’m usually glad of comments, even if the piece is ultimately declined. It’s a chance to learn, to really see your work through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes, of course, the comments come from a parallel universe which appears to have very little in common with your own.

One of these recent critiques struck me. Where’s the conflict? it asked. Why doesn’t the character grow and change? These are valid concerns and good questions to ask, especially if you are to avoid the dread vignette. But conflict can take many forms. Life is not all about arguments and violence.┬áConflict can be something perceived only by the protagonist, something internal. So can growth and change.

Perhaps I’ve counted too much on the recognition of experience. The reader’s understanding, without too much being stated, that this is how the character would feel, that this is the conflict she would be experiencing.

I’d argue, too, that not everyone grows. We become stuck in our ways, despite the evidence, despite the prods the universe gives us. That’s part of the human condition, often a sad part. I’m tempted to add that the need for overt conflict is a very male trait, though I’m not sure if that’s entirely true.

I’m rewriting that story. But not too much. Sometimes the quietest things are the best.

Onwards and upwards.

woman warrior

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Only the good die young

None of us are truly good, most of us aren’t particularly trying. But there are good actions, good intentions. I’ve been wrestling with how to write about them without making them boring or schmaltzy. (not for this current story, but perhaps for the next) Marillyne Robinson does it. And possibly, on a lighter scale, so does Alexander McCall Smith. The TV show Rev manages it too, I think.

There’s an easy fix: the complicated character who does something good. My daughter wanted her nose pierced recently and, because we were on holidays and I, apparently, had made a vague promise in the past, we ended up following Google to the nearest available place. Me, with the articulated thought that if we didn’t like the look of wherever it was we were heading, we didn’t have to go in.

100 metres north, up in a dodgy lift, and we came to a small shop. We were greeted by a woman with multiple piercings (no surprise), wearing a goat’s head ring, a goat’s head necklace and a T-shirt which read something like Drink Coffee and Worship Satan.

I smiled and handed my youngest child over to her. And, as it turned out, she was the most helpful, reassuring, patient body piercer (if that’s the correct term) I have ever encountered.

So that, or something like it, was an easy story.

But we are so drawn to the bad, to the outre, to the shocking, that everything else is so easily passed over. And to be deeply good is profoundly difficult. A life’s calling and never attained. Perhaps the writing of it should be equally difficult. I will let my subconscious cogitate some more.

cemetery at St John's Gordon(The view from my hairdresser’s car park.)