My novel’s characters are getting braver.
In college, I had a writing professor who continuously told me that my stories needed more conflict, that nothing happened in them.
I didn’t tell him that that was because I’m terrified of conflict.
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Actually, I’ve spent most of my life tiptoeing around other people’s disappointment. Conceding. Scrambling to deliver. Shying away from honesty about my needs, feelings, and limitations.
As I revise my novel, I’m seeing that fear in my characters. In my last draft, they’d get frustrated, feel beaten down, get worked up almost to the point of an argument–and then dodge, preferring to dwell inside the safety of their own heads.
Not in this draft. Not as much, anyway.
In the last month of my life, it seems as if opportunities for conflict have abounded. Mounting stress and limited energy have sometimes left me in a corner, with no choice but to say “no” or crumble.
Turns out, though, that “no” can feel pretty good. (This video about “no” makes me laugh.)
“NO” is one of the hardest words for a people-pleaser to pronounce. WHAT?? I’m NOT Superwoman??!!
People aren’t always going to be happy with me. It’s not always good for me to say yes. It’s not always possible. And that’s OK. Even if it makes people mad on occasion. The people who really matter will stick around, love me even when I’m not perfect.
And guess what? It’s even OK for me to ask other people for help sometimes, too! Wonders abound.
While I was at camp this past week, volunteering as a counselor, I had the chance to walk a prayer labyrinth: an interactive tool for meditation that involves prayer in motion. As my feet walked, one in front of the other, in between the double line of stones, I got such a picture of what it means to set limits. All I can do is walk between my rocks. They’re my boundaries. I can’t control what goes on beyond them. I just need to keep walking in a lane just wide enough for my feet. Those are my limits. And it’s OK to let other people know I have them.
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Sometimes that means conflict.
And conflict…I guess…can actually be a good thing. Admitting that has given me such a boost of confidence.
I’m still not great at this whole say-no thing. I end up folding a lot more than I’d like to admit. But at least I don’t get nauseous anymore when I’m trying to write an argument scene. Not usually.
My characters are learning right along with me to step up and slap conflict in the face rather than tiptoe around it.
And here’s a sneak peek at the results.
“Can I help too?” Vivian asked eagerly.
“You?” Captain Daevin laughed. “Help with carpentry? It’s awfully dusty work, and you’re in this charming dress. Leave the men’s work to the men. Don’t fret your pretty head about it; you probably couldn’t follow the calculations anyway.”
She whirled on him.
“I beg your pardon? At the Library I was raised to Scholar Sixth Level in half the usual time. I can read in eighteen languages, and I most certainly will not leave this work to the men! What do you think I am; a painting on the wall, existing only to be admired? Thank you, sir, but I have no fear of a little dust, dress or no dress. Here.”
She thrust her straw hat into his hands and turned her back on him, her face flushed, eyes blazing.
“Now, what can I do to help?”
Slack-jawed, Jude handed her a hammer and a bundle of nails. Captain Daevin, still blinking in surprise, backed out of the room, her hat still in his hands.
13 thoughts on “Brave”
This hits home for me right now. It’s something C & I have been talking about a lot lately, as it is something that he struggles with. Your words sound like his! Conflict grows us… this is something he’s learning, and we are learning together how that looks in our marriage. And, just for the record, I value you for exactly who you are, Alina 😉
Thanks, Elaine! It can be SUCH a difficult growing process…
It can be a very difficult growing process. Especially because if we have this tendency we’ve been honing and polishing it for years. Which makes leaving it behind something that feels weird or even unnatural. And for me it has become such a part of how I see myself that, at times, if feels as if removing it is like removing my own value. This is nonsense, and yet it is something that trips me up, more often than I’d care to admit.
Very well said. Being “the nice one” can become our identity, even when it’s actually harmful to us. Cutting it out makes it that much more painful. But so freeing when it’s done!
Hallelujah!!!!!! You are finally learning to say no and to know that sometimes conflict is necessary and like you say, it actually feels good. It took me many more years than you to find that out. I’m glad you’re learning early. Love you, Nuni
Thanks, Nuni! My little successes feel good, but I still have a lot to learn…I have a feeling I’ll be at this for the rest of my life 🙂
Good for you. I’m probably close to you in terms of how much progress I’ve made in that area, lol. I’ve learned to say ‘no’ on occasion. Still not comfortable admitting my own needs though. Life-long battle, eh? 😉
Woohoo, saying no! Good for you. Admitting needs will come. Sometimes God backs us into a corner where we don’t have choice 🙂
I used to shy away from conflict all the time, and I actually used a character to help me learn to say no. I wrote her at the beginning of the novel as close to me as I could get her (knowing I’m very biased when it comes to myself. One of my best friends actually found her quite annoying at the beginning, which made me feel horrible!). As the story progressed and she got deeper and deeper into the hole she kept digging by not fighting back I was right there with her, emotionally. When she finally snapped and started fighting back and saying no and putting her foot down I found it easier to do as well. So much easier, in fact, that I haven’t been able to go back and re-write it because it’s hard for me to remember what it was like to be her in the beginning (and now I find her quite annoying too!).Good luck with your journey learning to say no!
What a neat idea, Rebecca! The power of writing to heal and change us is amazing to me. It’s encouraging that you were able to grow right along with your character.
You know what is funny? I am exactly the opposite. I tend to add too much conflict to my stories and I am working to slow down my writings a bit. Anyway, wonderful idea and I love the excerpt from your story!
How funny! From my point of view, that sounds very freeing…but I’m sure it’s just as difficult, in the opposite way 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!