When Things Get Messy
This past week was messy. I’m talking icky stomach bug, everyone throwing up everywhere, messy. If that weren’t enough, our leach field failed, meaning I couldn’t use my washing machine. To top it off, our hot water went out (Because apparently you have to check your propane tank on occasion). Try cleaning up a kid covered in regurgitated dinner at two in the morning only to find you’re out of hot water. Thankfully, we don’t have a gas stove top. Now I’ll raise the stakes, really make this past week of mine sound epic. My daughters 4th birthday was at the end of the week along with her very anticipated birthday party. Would we all get better in time for the party? Or did it have to be canceled, crushing her sweet four year old spirit? Thankfully by Friday we were all better (a birthday miracle). Propane tank got refilled and the party could proceed as planned. The leach field however, is to be continued.
Now that the storm has mostly passed, I can look back and laugh at the unfortunate events that conspired against me all at once. My “first world mom problems” bring to mind the things I have and will be putting my main character, Aileen, through (is there such thing as literary karma?). But ultimately, what good is a story without conflict and what good are my characters if they aren’t conflicted?
If life was always calm and peaceful it would get really boring. Same goes with storytelling. You start off with the status quo of your characters lives and then watch as their lives are completely upended. It sounds messed up, but conflict is what makes life, life. Conflict gives our brains problems to solve, which gives us new ways of learning and thinking. It helps us continue to grow as humans and hopefully move forward to be better than we were before. I don’t want to read a story or watch a movie where the characters sit on their mundane patooties the whole time. What shared human experience do I gain from watching someone live a perfect life where nothing bad happens, ever? When there’s no problems to solve our brains have nothing to do and they get bored. But, add struggle, conflict, someone trying to rise above all odds only to get beat back down again, now you have something interesting. Maybe they triumph in the end, maybe the bad guys win. Either way, it makes me want to share in their failure or success. It makes me feel like I’m part of their world, and maybe I’ll even learn a little something about myself while I’m in it. This is only possible with characters that are conflicted, messed up, imperfect people just like the rest of us, who get thrown into conflicted, messed up, imperfect situations.
So don’t hold back, mess up your characters lives! You have my permission.