SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about the need for conflict in ones writing
One of the themes when I was growing up was, “Why can’t we all just get along.” It was a noble sentiment. There were some who could not even agree on that. Whether getting along is practical or not, one should at least agree that in principal anyway, getting along is a worthy goal. Oh well. Maybe I don’t understand the controversy surrounding getting along with others.
One thing I do know. When writing, we cannot have happy books about happy people doing happy things. Why? Well, it quickly becomes boring. At least so it would appear. Maybe it is boring because, for the most part, our own lives are fairly stress and conflict free. I don’t know, I am not a sociologist. I just know that after a while, books with no conflict quickly end up on the not completed stack in my house.
So there needs to be conflict. How that conflict resolves depends on the nature of the book. If it is a mystery novel, these things are general out of the traditional romance field and so they have somewhat happy endings. Most mysteries the murder is solved. It is a more modern tradition where the criminal gets away with it, but at least the murder is solved. Most of the time, the murder is solved, the murderer is caught and brought to justice in some way.
But along the way, the protagonist is in for a heck of a ride. Everything bad that can happen will generally happen. If it is easy, then the task is not worthy of the protagonist. This springs from the early epic traditions. The hero is a normal flawed individual, who using a peculiar set of skills solves the mystery. Sometimes it is a piece of trivia that unlocks the mystery – such as how long it takes to cook traditional grits. At other times, it is simply the ability to keep on asking questions to the point of annoying a suspect. This is the, “Oh by the way sir. One more thing…..” The antagonist invariably falls into the trap of their own hubris.
So we love our heroes. We give them certain abilities, and then set their world upside down. It is a strange world, but also it is a pretty safe bet that the protagonist will be in peril often, but will also … just barely … squeak by. Conflict. But safe conflict. And know the hero will not die.