As a person, I avoid conflicts as much as possible. I dislike a sturdy fight. I enter confrontation thoughtfully, in defense of those in need of justice or protection. Squabbles and quarrels give me a headache. Mean people make me physically ill. Cruelty makes me cringe in horror and recoil in anger. Maybe that’s why I avoid scary movies and books.
And yet our cultural language is powered by words of conflict. We are told to fight everything from all manner of disease, as well as poverty, terrorists, and Internet porn and spam. Words of war find their way into the private and public conversations all around us. Sit in any coffee shop, anywhere in this country and listen in on conversations. Everything is a battle and politically we are influenced by an ongoing national agenda that encourages violence to address even the most benign aspects of the human condition.
So it is with regret that I must come to terms with the fact that conflict is an essential component of any fiction worth reading. Opposing forces lead to complications that drive fiction to come to some kind of resolution. It may be a happy resolution or a sad one, but it should bring insights to readers. The showdown between opposing forces, whether internal (inside characters hearts and minds) or whether external (outside and layered), brings the reader to a new place after reading the story. Oddly enough – braving conflict is in itself – a reward for hanging in, and reading and hoping for some kind of sensible ending.
It seems to me that writers have a shared responsibility to provide an ending worth the conflict. If the conflict is worthy, the results can provide a new clarity, without using coincidences or short cuts to resolution. So writers can make the experience of dealing with conflict, a moment of growth. Readers and writers are cheated when they struggle through the rigors of conflicts only to find the ending concludes with some sort of gimmick, a trick, a slight of hand move that ends with something like, “He woke up as the morning sun streamed into his bedroom and realized it was all a dream.”
I continue to hope that eventually the world will notice how much we need more compassion, shared respect, mutual civility, and generous acts of kindness, all of which would do much to make the world better. And maybe the paradox lies in the power of fiction to help bring that about in the hearts and minds of readers.
This photo is viewed through a screen.
Maybe it is an effort to avoid the harsh reality of life. But it changes everything! Is that a good thing?
Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at: