I couldn’t sleep, so I stood outside last night on the deck and watched the stars and an occasional airplane glide through against the dark sky. Then I saw a shooting star.
A shooting star. If I had blinked, I would have missed it. I captured it in my brain, full of wonder and ignorance about what I just saw. I stood for a bit longer, hoping to see another show, but no. I was satisfied with the quiet, the peacefulness, and the possibility that more worlds exist than ours.
Now I know how science fiction got started – my imagination took flight. What do those creatures look like? Are they human? Have they created a better world, took better care of their planet, are they at peace?
And all at once I created a story in my head. And I realized that my stories are always happy, always peaceful, always full of goodness. People are polite and do things for each other. There are no harsh words, just a few things to get over, but with the help of their friends and sometimes strangers, they jump over the obstacles and celebrate.
I am such a Pollyanna.
It explains why I have such a hard time coming up with an antagonist, a problem, and conflict within the story. I do. I struggle against it. I don’t want it in my life, I don’t want it in my books, and I will do anything, anything, to avoid conflict.
But I realize that just won’t sell books.
I thought back to fairy tales that children love – they all have a bad guy in them, and I never noticed. It was just part of the story – I didn’t categorize good vs. evil. (Boy am I dumb.)
It was just a story. Now I have to pay attention and get clinical about making sure that stuff’s in there.
My husband, like most men, loves the shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, blood and guts movies – I knit quietly by his side or go do something else. Can’t stand it. Don’t see the value in it, think about the damage in it, and worry about children watching it.
I’ve heard that every married couple argues – frequently – and that makes me sad. In thirty-five years, we have never had a down and out argument. I’m just not built that way. I’m not quiet, I assure you, but I state my piece calmly and then walk away. I won’t argue. Conflict completely freaks me out.
So how do I get stories, good stories, ones that have all the requisite angst and mystery, tension, and extreme badness? It’s hard. Really hard. So hard that I feel like I’m damaging a perfect quilt with red wine. It gets messy.
I can’t get into the mind of a person who thinks about bad things. What is their motivation/rationalization for blowing up cities or killing hundreds of innocent people while trying to kill one person?
I don’t get it, but other people do, and it sells. It sells big. Books, movies, short stories, plays, and video games – all have bad guys and tons of conflict – some very noisy.
So in this fleeting moment on the deck, my worlds collided. In the peacefulness of middle night with the dark sky and stars out, I thought about conflict. I recognize the irony.
So if this Pollyanna can come up with conflict, with enough tension to satisfy my readers and sell some books, she can do most anything. But it is not easy.
Most of the time writing is easy for me. I can sit down and bang out a story in no time at all – the editing and revising takes far longer, which is as it should be.
But what I come up with is a Pollyanna story – and I’m happy! I have a perfectly pristine white quilt.
Now I have to go get the red wine.
I have to pull a door open in my head, a squeaky door that doesn’t want to open, to access the meanness I’ve (for some reason) locked within. I have to walk into that dark cave where monsters lurk and dark memories hide under rocks. I have to recognize something that will work, grab it, and escape before it gets me first.
In that fleeting moment something happens, and I run with it. This is where I spend more time than writing the draft to begin with. That was the easy part. Here I have to knit in bad stuff that somehow grabs me and I finally have some fun with it. It takes a long, long time to get it where it’s tough enough.
Pay attention to fleeting moments – a glance between two people can create an entire story. The way a woman holds her teacup gives you some background on a character. The way someone’s voice rises when asking a question gives you motivation –is she asking or telling?
Even a shooting star is inspiration.