Writing Lessons from Mom – Conflict

WHAT’S PLAYING: Pink! “Fucking Perfect

I have a terrible temper. My dad says I’m just like my mother—a 6-foot stick of dynamite with a 2-inch fuse.

 

Despite our shared anger management issues, you’d be hard pressed to lure my mother into an argument. To understand why, you have to go back a couple of hundred years…to the days of the traditional Choctaw duel.

This wasn’t your typical pistols-at-dawn affair. Choctaw duels were a bit more decisive.

The disputants would face one another across the village square, and then their assistants—usually a brother or close friend appointed for the occasion—would split their heads open with an ax. The dispute was resolved, and the community didn’t have to put up with incessant bickering.

My people are nothing if not practical.

Another incident of Choctaw dispute resolution involves the legendary chief, Pushmataha. Having been insulted by General Henry Knox, Chief Pushmataha bought a barrel of gunpowder and fitted it with a fuse. He sat on the barrel, lit a cigar, and invited the general to sit beside him. Knox declined and never insulted Pushmataha again. Nor did any other American general.

 

Despite this culturally inspired aversion to conflict, I often find myself embroiled in pointless arguments.

You see, I like to be right. Moreover, I like to prove that I’m right. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trolling the internet or leafing through obscure reference books just to win an argument that any reasonable person would have already forgotten.

While this almost psychopathic need to prove myself has played holy hell with my personal life, it’s served me well in my writing.

As any writer will tell you, you can’t have a story without conflict, whether it’s inner, outer, preferably both. You have to have conflict in order to tell a decent story. It’s that simple.

What it isn’t, however, is easy. I’ve learned the hard way that handling conflict well in real life does not translate to being able to do the same in writing. Like my ancestors, I’d much rather write (or be involved) in a physical altercation, than explore my characters’ (or my own) feelings.

 

 

Still, dealing with emotions and the different faces of humanity is part of what it means to be a writer. So, while my relatives are solving disputes with the threat of skull bashing and explosions, I’ll save my more violent tendencies for the page.

But, if you see me stalking towards you with an axe in one hand and a reference book in the other….

Run.

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