When my first agent read my first novel, she called me up and said, "You don't like conflict, do you?"
Excuse me, I thought. I pretty much AM conflict. I am filled with conflict. I am a 24/7 conflict kind of gal, roiling in her own issues, traumatized by life events, desperate to right wrongs and fight it out amongst my family, friends, colleagues. I'm a big pain in the ass, I wanted to say.
But I didn't because, well, I wanted her to still be my agent.
We continued to talk, and I realized that what I had done in that draft was fix it all up so smoothly for my characters that one had to say anything to anyone. Your wife die? Well, don't talk about it. Move out of your house, leave your children behind and repress all that grief while forming a new relationship with a woman you don' even like.
Your neighbor get you pregnant? For god's sake, hide the damn baby and don't tell a soul except your freaked out 15-year-old sister.
Your sister forcing you to keep the biggest secret of your life? Forcing you to deliver HER baby at home. Put on your big girl panties and shut the hell up.
Your husband impregnates the neighbor girl and get arrested? Through a jar of chutney and go post bail.
So, with my agent's help, I went back into the draft to let my characters grapple with their anger and grief and fear and sadness. And it became a much better story. A true story. A real story.
But there is a part of me that would just rather not cause waves. This part of me would like to ignore that my boys are fighting with each other. Life is o much easier when I don't have to deal with anger and upset. The problem is, of course, the problems get bigger if we don't face them. If we don't stand in front of the character or person and say, "What is it that you need to say?"
Listening to that sentence or paragraph or twenty-five pages may not be pleasant but it's necessary.
Somewhere in my fairytale imaginings of life is a scenario where no one disagrees. Where we all sit, looking slightly opiated, and smile. We eat our dinner calmly. We don't talk about Mumbai or anarchy or the Republican Convention. No one argues. People pass the potatoes.
"Where's the conflict?" my agent would say. "Can't you have them talk about the election at least? Can't the grandmother yell at the grandson? Can't someone throw a plate of food at the wall? For god's sake, something has to happen."
Life and literature share so much, but life is a narrative not a fiction. Fiction needs conflict to move. Life needs a little salt, a little pepper, and lots of pie.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org