There’s a pink post-it on the notice board above my desk with the word ‘Obstacles’ scrawled on it three times. All Caps. Underlined. Beside it is a paler pink one with the word ‘Conflict’ on it.
I had a very normal, very boring childhood. There was zero drama in our household. In my thirty years, I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times my parents raised their voices, whether at me, my brother, or each other. It’s a stable way of growing up, to be sure, but it has created in me a general attitude of conflict/confrontation avoidance which has not served me well in my writing.
It’s a common problem for writers, I imagine. I mean, society creates in people an instinct to avoid conflict. Most people don’t like to ruffle feathers, they don’t seek to rock the boat. And yet, that is exactly the sort of behavior that’s required in fiction. Conflict and tension are what move the plot along; it’s where character is revealed and secrets are unleashed. It’s where whatever is at stake is revealed.
And so now, whether I’m drafting a scene or editing, I scrutinize and pick apart the conversations, looking for tension I might be glossing over, looking for a moment where one or more of the characters can have a flare-up, looking for conflict and the potential for obstacles.
The search goes on….