Not Wired for Conflict

by Intermittent Rain ~ December 3rd, 2014

I’m reading Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron. One particular section made me think.


She mentions a successful business man in his 60s, married to his high school sweetheart, with successful grown children. He brought Cron an 800 page novel, and, noting the absence of conflict in it, she asked him how he felt about conflict in his own life.

 “He frowned. ‘I don’t like it,’ he said, tensing. ‘Who does?’

The answer, of course, is no one (drama queens notwithstanding). That’s exactly why we turn to story—to experience all the things that in life we avoid … in real life we want conflict to resolve right now, this very minute; in a story we want conflict to drag out, ratcheting every upward, for deliciously long as humanly possible.

… In the same way that a vicarious thrill, being one crucial step removed, isn’t nearly as powerful as the real thing, neither is the pain we experience when lost in a story … And that, my friends, is what makes stories so deeply satisfying. We get to try on trouble, pretty much risk-free.

Ignoring the occasional redundancy (presumably used for emphasis) and floweriness of the writing, I still got an ‘aha’ moment from this. I already knew I will do a lot to avoid conflict in real life, but I realize now that likely affects my ability to infuse scenes and storylines with conflict. I can do big conflict in single scenes (a kidnapping, a rape; a fight, verbal and/or physical), but I don’t manage under-current conflict well, in either the short or the long term. IRL I don’t see it or prefer to ignore it, and I do the same in the scenes that I imagine.


IRL, people don’t see things exactly the same. Even when they agree, their reasons for agreeing, for stating the same thing or appearing to do so will be different, even if only slightly thus. A long-married husband and wife can agree to see a movie but with different side reasons (time together, escape from kids, get out of the house), even if their stated reason is that they both like Pierce Brosnan. New co-workers on a business trip can agree to stop for lunch at a Denny’s for the stated reason of hunger, though one may hate the cologne of the other and just be happy to get out of the car, or the other has fond memories of Denny’s from his first date with his new girlfriend.


Those side reasons, verbalized or not, shared with the reader via inner dialogue or not, should shade or tint the interaction.


In addition, there’s the whole world of actual conflict. Even though I avoid it or belittle or ignore it IRL, I need it in my fiction. A lot. Big, small, short, long. And I know that, but I think my aversion to conflict is hindering my ability to imbue degrees of conflict in my fiction.

In a TV comedy, there is constant misunderstanding and misinterpreting generating conflict between characters or between a character and the world as it really is. In each episode of ‘The Waltons’ one member of the loving, peaceful, happy family does something, hopes for something, has something done to them, or somehow has conflict with another character. In ‘Columbo’ there is always a battle between Columbo and the mystery of the truth and the villain who is hiding from him, as well as the ongoing apparent discrepancy between Columbo’s sloppy, unassuming personality and his ability to outthink the villain. On reality TV there is the conflict between the goals of the contestants and between the contestants themselves. In sports, well, the conflict is obvious.

What about informative programming? Travel shows would be conflicts between our home versus travel, an inner conflict contrasting our regular life with a more exciting life, like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” used to be.

; documentaries about hot peppers,



(project: use same agreeing words for different characters, agreeing with various people but for different reasons)





by Intermittent Rain ~ November 29th, 2014

One of my reasons for blogging is to look at things that I learn along the way. Sometimes the objective is to clarify and help to solidify a concept or process or theory, to firm it up in my brain so that it’s easy to recall and to work with. Other times it’s to explore something that I’m not clear on. That something could be supplied or triggered by learning material I’ve come across, or from my own thoughts after reading  something interesting.

Or the blogging could be about my experiences as I go through the process of learning.

Right now it’s been a while—maybe as much as a couple of months—since I’ve worked hard at writing new material. I’ve spent time editing a couple short pieces for submission and done my regular writing practice, but haven’t started anything new that is longer than 500 words. I’ve put my WIP novel aside after multiple attempts to spin an acceptable ending. I’m so close to the end that there’s not much else I can do at this point until I’m sure where I’m heading. I’ve even tried pulling some chapters from the story to see if I can reframe them as stand-alone short story submissions, but without generating much enthusiasm on my part.

It’s perhaps a version of writer’s block, but not the stereotypical version where the author is working on something but can’t get it to come together. That applies to some extent to the WIP, but I’m happy to let that sit because I think it’s kind of a cool story and because I think there are elements beyond just the plot, such as the structure (presentation format), some character decisions, and even the choice and use of tense, that are open to revision.

But I’m still writing stuff beyond the WIP, so I’m not totally blocked. I’d be happy to work on something else; a new project, a 5,000 – 15,000 word short story, another potential novel using different characters and maybe in a different genre, anything beyond the flash fiction that is coming out of the writing exercises.

Nothing is generating sufficient enthusiasm though.

Often, in other learning processes that I’ve been through, this can indicate a period of growth. When I keep working at things but nothing seems up to my standards of what is interesting or worthwhile, it can be because my standards are increasing, my critical skills and expectations (hopes) are rising, but those skills are no longer in step with my creative/inspirational abilities, leaving me with nothing that is up to my new standards. And so, besides my regular short exercises and polishing completed work, I sit, waiting, tensed, ready to spring into action, like a sprinter in the blocks or a boxer waiting for the bell.

At least I can hope that that describes what is going on. Otherwise, my creative juices may simply be running dry, and I’m done my best stuff already.


Thinking in Style

by Intermittent Rain ~ November 25th, 2014

I sometimes absorb writing styles from my reading, then use that voice in my head as I’m thinking to myself.

Do other people do this?


The most recent example was the other night when I started The Twelve, by Justin Cronin. The title came to me via some reading list so I had no idea who Justin Cronin is or what kind of novel The Twelve might be; like most fiction I’ve read over the past three years I simply started reading and waited to see what I thought of it.

The voice Cronin uses is in the first chapter is declamatory, with short, clear, sometimes blunt phrases and sentences. I was just into Chapter Two when I turned off my cell phone (my Ereader) and lay down. I found myself thinking—about what I don’t remember—but using the same voice as Cronin was writing with. In other words, the sentences could have been written by Cronin for this novel, or, at least imho, at that time of night.


The most common example of this absorption process occurs when I take the bus. In my bag I always carry a recent issue of The New Yorker. The New Yorker is largely non-fiction, and its writing often has a particular style, or flavor, or voice. They love long, detailed, yet clear statements and descriptions. And more than once, after closing the magazine and getting off the bus I find myself using “New Yorker” sentences in my thinking.


My aunt once complained about her hometown friends making fun of her accent, because in spite of having lived in Texas for a number of years, she didn’t think she had one. It’s probably a similar process to my reading voice adoption, only quicker to absorb and thereby more temporary? How quick and how temporary is unclear because I’ve been exposed to New Yorker writing off and on for years, and it’s possible that I’ve read similar styles to Cronin’s writing, making me more prone to finding it familiar and easy to adopt. And, I’m sure, the New Yorker writing has affected my thinking voice long term to some degree.


I used to be able to do this musically as well. In my days of MIDI composition I could catch a tiny smidge of music from a radio or from the headphones of a passerby, then improvise off it in my head, taking elements that I liked; emotion, style of pulse, feel, and generating a new eight or sixteen bar fragment that would be the building block of a new composition. And the reason that I only wanted to hear as short a fragment as possible—no more than a few seconds—is to avoid hearing their music, which would distract me from where I might want to go with it. My technical music comprehension is well beyond what is required for the folk-country-pop-rock-dance music I was hearing from the radio so building my music was easy, but because I rarely listen to the musical styles I was emulating, the results were always a little outside the norm for the style. Partly as a result, they often seem sarcastic, as if I’m making fun of the genre; not usually my intention.


My fiction writing skills are not nearly so advanced, and my fiction reading and acceptance is more diverse that my music listening. Also, it seems that I can tolerate mediocre writing and genres that I’m not enamored with more easily in fiction than in music. Music penetrates more deeply, more quickly and without effort or even a willingness on my part. I can speed read or skip passages if I’m bored and stop and start as I please when I read, but there’s no easy way to hide from distasteful music.