Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Experiencing Conflict About Conflict

by Rachael Phillips

Will we earthly writers also write in heaven?

 Your current sinking scene and malfunctioning computer may push you toward kicking it out the window and praying for its eternal perdition. But if you are a true writer, you probably fish computer and story out of the yew bushes and try again.

And yes, you hope we will write in heaven.

I know I do.

We will, however, need to rethink our entire approach to storytelling, because in heaven we will experience no conflict. God will have perfected our minds and natures. Our circumstances. Even our computers. Our glorified stories there will dwarf the tiny, ragged tales we patched together while on earth.

But the Rapture has not yet taken place, right? Please tell me I’m right. For my sake and my computer’s.

Thank you! [Wiping sweat off brow.] Where was I? Oh, yes. Until we go to heaven, conflict remains an important element of every story, even God’s. Conflict fuels plots, illuminates themes, fires characters, and ignites passion in readers that keep the pages turning. If you have attended recent classes, you have heard it preached like a catechism: fill your books with conflict. Every chapter. Every page. Every word. Soak your story in conflict; poke, provoke, even choke your reader with conflict.

Hmm. At this point, I experience conflict about conflict.

In real life, I try to avoid it. I may even read a novel to escape conflict. To relax. Yes, relax.

So why would I choose one in which not only the heroine and hero are at odds, but their co-workers, neighbors, weather conditions, pets, cars, appliances, zippers, and plastic wrap are engaged in all-out cosmic war?

A constant diet of conflict will give a reader ulcers—probably not an author’s intent. Unless you want to make him wish fervently for heaven, which is one form of pre-evangelism, I suppose. But real life already does that.

How about you? Do you find yourself pairing a nice evening of novel-reading with extra Zantac? Or Prozac?

Do all genres require similar amounts of conflict? In your genre, where do you draw the line?    




  1. I hear you loud and clear, Rachael! First of all, I sure hope we will write in Heaven, and with constant inspiration, no critics and no reviews? Well, yay! That's the best possible scenario that I can imagine. As far as conflict, I completely agree. I think Christian romance is a genre where you want more "life" situations (that can be conflicting enough) and not constant drama, danger or life-altering situations. Most romance readers would agree, I believe. What I personally want is to relax at the end of a long day with a book that will take me into someone else's life. Intelligently written but something with which I can identify, keep my interest and make me laugh. I know you agree with that last one, especially. I rebel against the theory that as writers we must throw everything you can at your characters until there's no way they can possibly get out of it. Uh, huh. I'm not going to do it, and I'm sure MY readers would agree. Now, if I'd suddenly lose my mind and start writing another genre, then maybe I'd throw more conflict in there. But I don't believe that's going to happen. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Thanks, JoAnn, for your comments. They're keeping me thinking about this issue! That is one of the things I enjoy about romance. While we shake those heroines and heroes up at times, we also let them enjoy being together. So relaxing at the end of a tough day. I've written three mysteries now, and they need far more plot twists and tension. But I say, let those detectives (and their readers) enjoy a break or two as well!

    1. I actually added the element of mystery in Catching Serenity. Those of my readers who like mysteries say it's their favorite book of mine thus far. I had fun with it, but there were a number of plot twists to work through...and the attention to every little detail and fitting the pieces together like a puzzle was a challenge. But I still loved every minute of writing that one!

  3. There's something to what you say Rachael. One of the mainstream authors I read writes what are cataloged as mysteries, yet no one dies or even gets hurt. The main character (and he has several different series) goes about life interacting with interesting, odd characters that carry the story and answers whatever "the question" is by the end of the book, or at least makes a philosophical conclusion. I love those books. I love the characters. I love the gentleness of them. Yet, I never need to stay awake all night to finish the read. It's like eating a piece of very, very rich triple chocolate torte. A small slice leaves you extremely satisfied.

    1. I guess I should add that there is always conflict in the form of people having different POV on a topic, different end goals that don't mesh, maybe a reluctance to confront, or having to tip-toe around a relative to keep the piece. There's conflict it doesn't have to be knock 'em over the head, shoot 'em up stuff.

    2. Sounds like my type of book, Mary! If you're willing to share, I'd love the name of the author. :)

    3. Mine, too. I think that's why I like Jan Karon's books. The conflicts are subtle, the humor gentle, and the writing simple and polished.