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.