Sunday, November 18, 2012

Creating Conflict

My novel wasn't yet finished.  As usual, she was being difficult.

"You're hot, you're cold, you're up, you're down," I grumbled.  "You're like a friggin' one woman circus."

The Muse stood there with her arms crossed and fixed me with a glare that wouldn't be out of place in divorce court.  As was the case with most women in my life, I had no idea what I'd done to make her mad, but I was sure that it wouldn't be easy to assuage her wounded spirit.

I decided to try a different approach.  "Come on, you know I can't do any of this without you.  You need to help me understand how to best create conflict in a story.  What could the antagonist do to make the main character mad?"

A twinkle appeared in her eyes, and I didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.  She slinked up to me and took a good long look up and down my body, like she was appraising a horse before auction.  Then she reared back and kicked me in the balls.

God there were times I hated that bitch.

"There, did that make you mad?" she asked in a sugary voice.

It took me a second or five to prop myself back on my knees and pry my nuts from my nostrils.  I tried to return her glare, but in my state, it looked more like I had a bad case of gas.

"Why do you have to be so difficult?" I asked.  "If you would be more forthcoming, things wouldn't be so hard between the two of us and life might actually be good."
("You'll get the words when I say you can get the words," the Muse spat)
"You don't care about me at all," she said, her voice quivering.

"What are you talking about?"

"The only time you ever call is when you want a story of some kind or inspiration you can't find on your own.  You never come by to see what I'm up to without you or care if I disappear for weeks at a time while you're off at Disneyland with your family.  I'm tired of being taken for granted."

I suppressed a sigh, but just barely.  I didn't have time for this nonsense - my release date was barely three months away and I still didn't have believable conflict between the two main guys in the story.  They needed to have a reason to not be getting along, and all my Muse could offer me was some pouty bullshit about being ignored.

"Maybe if you came around more often when I needed you, I would think more about your feelings when I don't," I said.

Her eyes narrowed and she stormed out of the room, her toga billowing behind her.  Clearly that wasn't the right thing to say.

I walked downstairs and wondered if I was about to embark on yet another hide and seek adventure, so it stopped me short when I got into the kitchen to find her holding my manuscript in one hand, a lighter in the other.

"What are you doing?" I demanded.

"I looked over these pages you wrote without me," she said.  "Garbage.  Pure garbage."

In the next instant, I knew what was going to happen, but I couldn't stop her.  She flicked the lighter and touched them to my pages, three weeks worth of work turning to ash in less than five seconds.

"Hey!" I yelled.  "I worked hard on that.  Now what am I supposed to do?"

She blew the still smoldering cinders at me before saying, "You don't get it do you?  It's not enough for you to say that Charles hates the villain - he has to have a reason to hate him beyond the fact that he's bad.  Further, you can't just tell everyone the reason, like 'Gil killed Charles' family' or 'Gil burned down Charles' house.'  The audience will never feel the righteous anger you want them to feel unless they experience what Charles experiences as well."

"You mean I have to spell out each step?" I asked.  "There's too much background, and it'll eat up half the book."

"Welcome to the world of being a writer," she said with a grin.  "Besides, the reader doesn't have to see everything - they just have to see enough.  And you can do it in action sequences, conversations, flashbacks, etc.  But however you do it, you need to show why Charles has made it his life's work to bring this guy down.  It also might help if you had the two of them interact a little bit."

Now my eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets.  Who was she kidding?  "You don't talk to guys you hate; you fight them."

"Only if you want to keep the tension private.  Think about it - all the greats had some kind of back and forth in their work.  Harry Potter and Tom Riddle had that scene in the Chamber of Secrets, Robert E. Lee and Andries Rhoodie spoke at great length during the aftermath of the Confederate victory in the Civil War, and even Darth Vader and Obi Wan went back and forth.  It doesn't matter if the interaction lasts very long, but it does matter that it happens."

I was quiet for a little while, and I didn't know if that was because she'd made a good point or if it was because I was too tired to argue any more.  I kicked at the ashes laying at my feet and turned around to go back upstairs.

"I guess I'll start over, but it'll be more wasted effort if you don't come back upstairs with me."

"I'll think about it," she said.

The stairs felt steep as I trudged up them.  Part of me wanted to look back to see if she was following, while another part wanted to turn around and wring her scrawny neck.  If she didn't come, I could have two or three more drafts that would deserve to meet the same fate as what she'd torched, but I wasn't about to beg.  After all, there was pride to consider.

Like I said, there are days I really hated that bitch.  Unfortunately, without her, I'm nothing.


  1. I do so love reading stories about other people's muses. Makes my relationship with mine seem a little more...normal? :)

    1. I think each person believes their relationship is normal. For me and my muse, I sometimes enjoy the drama - it makes the final product exciting. ;-)