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Friday, September 30, 2011

Conflict in Fiction and Real Life

When people are under stress, they will sometimes do things unexpectedly.  Conflicts will arise, and relationships change, sometimes permanently.  Friends become enemies, and alliances with others are not formed from the usual criteria, but are results of bonding on certain issues.

I recently observed this behavior in a writing course amongst the mentors of the class.  Remarks were made, offense was taken, and the battle was on.  The conflict escalated to the point that one of the mentors considered quitting.  This would put the class at jeopardy, and damage the integrity of the instructors, possibly permanently.  The mentor involved had been with the school for many years, and had worked her way up to co-administrator status.
Thankfully, she has decided not to leave the course, but will try to avoid further escalation of the incident that started the problem.  Her students will continue to enjoy her expertise, and class will be uninterrupted.

Conflict is an essential part of any fiction project.  Without it, the story is dull and boring.  It was only a coincidence that conflict was the topic of the lesson for this week.  It was awkward, not only for the mentors involved, but also for the students and fellow mentors.  No one wanted to take sides.  Everyone had an opinion, but most resisted the temptation to offer it.  Everyone not personally involved felt the need to walk on eggshells around the issue.

There was conflict in some family issues recently as well.  A beloved family member was dying, and the children were bickering over who should do what to help.  Angry words were said, names were called, and many tears were shed.  Stress was causing conflict.

Thankfully, the family pulled together enough to be present at the funeral.  The planning went relatively smoothly.  The surviving spouse is being cared for, and life is going on.  The situation was created by a lack of communication, frayed nerves, overwork, and raw emotion from anticipated grief. 

The scene is ongoing.  There has been no real resolution of the conflict as of this time, but I am praying the family will find some neutral  ground on which to rebuild the relationships .   Someday, once the air has settled, it might be fodder for a fiction story.  But for now, it is enough that the family members are trying to keep it together for the surviving spouse, who needs help.

Conflict is always present, sometimes under the surface in family dynamics, sometimes barely skin deep, with the potential for emotional outbursts.  In some families, the relationships are permanently destroyed, and never recover.  This is a tragedy for any children in these families.  But it can be tragic for the elderly as well.  Mothers, who spend their entire lives raising their children to love one another, see their children squabbling and at each other’s throats, even on their deathbeds.  How sad.

In my writing, I try to keep some conflict under the surface.  It’s what keeps my readers turning the pages, wanting to know how it all turns out.  In fairy tales, conflicts are almost always resolved and happy endings result.  This does not always happen in real life, unfortunately.  Sometimes an uneasy truce is all that can be expected.  These are uncertain times.  Economic adversity, warfare, crime, childhood and spousal abuse, all add to the conflicts in our lives.  They are all topics of possible stories.  It’s how we handle them that makes or breaks our stories, real and fictionally.

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