Novel Conflict-Building vs. Tension Relief

Writing a novel requires creating conflict, keeping tension stretched between chapters to entice readers to turn those pages. Readers ultimately need to see protagonists overcoming obstacles, and triumphing in life’s tribulations. We all need to have hope on the horizon.

Lately the real world projects so much conflict and tension, such seemingly endless tribulations, I’ve wanted to put anything but in my Other Worldly series. As a result, I haven’t incorporated the COVID crisis in the ongoing story, nor repeated, cold-blooded murder-by-cop of people of color. Some atrocities are too graphic and horrifically unjust for fictional tales.

But there may be moments where the angst felt by my protagonist Rowan Layne when dealing with fellow humans and various aliens species stems directly from present-day conflict and the suffocating stress it induces in me.

Recently at the dentist, I overheard a woman lamenting on how sick and tired she was, that enough was enough and she was so over it all. Was this about recurring senseless violence, rampant bigotry, or the tragic and daunting number of deaths from a viral plague?

No. This woman was tired of wearing a mask, period. And of course we all are, because it makes everything more difficult by requiring effort and aforethought. For some of us, though, the necessity to cover nose and mouth exacerbates trauma and fear of being out among those demanding to go about their day as if a pandemic were not still occurring. As if more than a half million of our fellow Americans have not died from this viral plague.

Imagine being so disconnected from basic human decency that you’re tired of being expected to care about others around you? That because you don’t know or love someone who died, you can no longer be bothered with all this pesky concern for the rest of the endangered populous.

An excellent character composite of a vile villain if there ever was one. With endless possibilities for a writer to create and build tension from the havoc such selfish and dangerous individuals unleash on the rest of us.

And yet being out and about during these challenging times has also brought glimpses of kindness and hope. The stalwart grocery store worker who’s still there, still double-bagging my little glass jars of yogurt for me after so many months. The dental hygienist who takes time to show compassion, empathy and caring beyond cleaning my teeth—and far surpassing that received from other medical practitioners.

The guys at the store who repaired my cracked phone screen, not complaining about wearing masks, but willing to engage in fun conversation about mask options— because we could. We could laugh and chat because enough of us have cared about each other to make it possible.

I write about aliens who care about my protagonist, and Rowan Layne advocates for them just as fiercely and protectively, because they choose to. Together, they overcome obstacles and tension created by those who seek to destroy their alliance, their friendship, their very right to exist.

The good eggs, those beings who care about something greater than themselves, will prevail in my novels because I need them to persevere in present reality, too.

We can help ourselves if we take time to engage, if we laugh and cry and share in what we all have been experiencing together despite our isolation, if for nothing more than to reduce overwhelming stress felt for so long now.

I get my second vaccine shot today, and I’m hopeful it will relieve that tension so necessary in novels, yet in real life, we all need a breather from. And I will keep writing my novels so Rowan Layne can live to fight another day, and also find joy in doing so.


2 thoughts on “Novel Conflict-Building vs. Tension Relief”

  1. Thank you. Your words [not only] clearly describe today’s reality, but paints a perspective about life (and writing) that we can identify with. Not one of us can prevent life from handing us a “dirty deal” periodically, we all can and should make good choices on how we adjust and deal with those adversities. I, as with you I think, am aided by my writing. I often acknowledge that as I explore my protagonist’s actions and character, I am really exploring myself. Anyway, thanks for your words today. Be well. – ✍🏻

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *