Now that I finished the book I’ve been working on (yay!), I’ve been casting around for my next project (eek!). I have a few ideas lined up—mostly centered in worlds I’ve already written—but I’ve been thinking about who my characters are and how I should develop their relationships.
I’m lousy at writing conflict, and conflict is crucial to any good story. Where should my hero and heroine converge? Where should they struggle? Over what, and how?
My usual solution to story questions: off to the internet. I wouldn’t say I found pay dirt, but I did find an article called “30 things you do wrong that will kill your marriage.” That seemed like it would be rich fodder for building conflict in a budding relationship, so I was off to the races.
First off, the article was interesting because although it was “30 things you do wrong,” not all of the 30 things were about behavior, exactly. Some of the 30 things seemed focused on characteristics intrinsic to the individual—qualities that a person would find difficult, if not impossible to change about themselves.
One example: “You’re Too Stubborn.” Now, it seems to me that stubbornness is an inherent trait, like being an introvert or an extrovert. You can try to mitigate stubbornness by focusing on, say, improving your listening skills, or practicing alternating who makes a decision about what to do on date night. But how do you change the fact or quality of stubbornness? I don’t think you can.
Another example: “You Have Low Self-Esteem.” Again, this feels like a basic personal quality. Someone can always try to improve the characteristics they least like about themselves (in this case, maybe with positive thoughts, affirmations, no public self-denigration, etc.), but having low self-esteem does not seem to be a behavior that’s immediately and obviously fixable.
Not like, for example, “Refusing to Help around the House.” This one always gets me. In my (okay, narrow) world view, the only people who get to refuse to do household chores are those who don’t live there (or, of course, people who are too young or incapacitated, or whatever). If you’re a couple and you live together—each person does half the chores. Your guy or gal doesn’t or refuses to do half? Ditch the bum. Who needs the aggravation? If you’d wanted to be a servant, you’d have asked for a higher wage.
“You Watch Too Much TV” was a marriage-killing behavior I found interesting. At first, I thought it meant, “you watch too much TV, so we never talk, so we can’t share stories or resolve arguments.” And yes, it means that. But it also means that individuals who believed in the relationships they saw portrayed on TV were less committed to their actual relationship. Moreover, these folks saw their actual relationship as a loss of personal freedom. Yikes!
On the upside, the article authors found that couples who watched romantic comedies together on television had a 50 percent lower divorce rate than other couples. So, fellow readers and writers—keep up the good work! You’re helping to build stronger marriages!
The article was both illuminating and weird. I found myself thinking that if I’d ever gone on a date with anyone who exhibited some the points described, I never would have gone out with that person again, much less get into a closer relationship. But as a way to find points of conflict for my characters, this article, and others like it, seem like a good way to stimulate ideas. What’s your take on any of this?