Conflict - who needs it?


Having defined the plots, subplots and character arcs of my first novel, I was feeling in a good place. As much as I was ready to keep the momentum going with the next stage of writing, I needed to travel overseas and sort out some matters in Bali, Indonesia. In a previous life, I was lucky to have lived in Bali for two years. I still have a villa there, but the tropical climate means it requires constant upkeep and attention. The trip wasn’t such a hardship – I caught up with several friends, and enjoyed escaping from the unpredictable Hong Kong typhoon season.

Returning to Hong Kong, my plan was to go through all the scenes of my novel and make sure the rhythm worked: that every scene was followed by a sequel and so on. Within every scene there was to be a goal, a conflict and a disaster. And within every sequel a reaction, a dilemma and a decision. Thanks to Raven Oak, Randy Ingermanson, and Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for some great explanations and examples.

I was in conflict trying to understand one person’s scene vs. another person’s sequel

My brain was hurting: I was in conflict myself trying to understand one person’s scene vs. another person’s sequel. I realise writing the perfect scene isn’t an exact science, and that I shouldn’t get too hung up on what is right or wrong, but taking a week off from writing had created some distance between my characters and me. It was a slow process, but the upside was that I enjoyed getting to know Joseph, Dara, Clive and the others again, this time in more detail.

Maybe it was because I had been away for a week, or maybe he didn’t like the noise of the keys as he tried to sleep, but Kowloon the cat would not stop trying to lie between the keyboard and me. Time and again, I picked him up and move him to the corner of the desk – the glorious warm sunny corner that he normally favours. Clearly we were having our own conflict and very different points of view.

Just when I thought I was making progress (with the book, not with Kowloon), I received a message from my brother, Tom. He was spending two weeks at the Bali villa with his wife Jane, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. But Jane had been rushed to hospital with a perforated bowel and was about to undergo major surgery. The couple were thousands of miles from their UK home, in an unfamiliar country, and there was a lot at stake.

We struggled with trying to understand the enormity of what had just happened

So I found myself returning to Bali. My brother and I sat at Jane’s ICU bedside for a week. We struggled to persuade her to keep her oxygen mask on. We struggled with the Bali traffic in high season – too many cars and motorbikes. We struggled with the insurance company who refused to pay anything. We struggled with trying to understand the enormity of what had just happened, and when Jane would be off the risk register. A lot of conflict in one week. But by the end of it, Jane was on the mend and her oxygen mask removed; the high season holidaymakers were starting to return home; and the insurance company was bending over backwards to help.

All these incidents contain conflict. Tom and Jane's goal was to have a memorable wedding anniversary, my goal was to write, Kowloon’s goal was to seek human warmth. The unwelcome conflicts created some large, some small disasters. And with each disaster followed a reaction and a new goal, whether it was fighting to stay alive, or new inspiration for another book, or seeking alternative warmth. And so life goes on. Without conflict, there are no new insights, no writers, and no readers.

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