My dear friend Camille Davenport recently reminded me that in between passive and aggressive is assertive. It is possible to be both gracious and unwavering. She claims I’ve mastered that, but she lives three-thousand miles away and sees me only on vacation, chardonnay in hand, when it’s easy to be gracious because there’s nothing to waver over. In real life, I suspect I fall somewhere between assertive and aggressive depending on how well rested and fed I am.
I’m certain I’ve never been associated with the word passive, and yet my first draft tends to make it too easy for the protagonist. I haven’t questioned why prior to now, but I think I need to see how the story concludes before understanding the experiences and conflict that will get my protagonist there. I don’t write with an ending in mind and that approach makes the conflict arc tricky.
My stories explore who a person is at their core and how they got there. I expose that truth by allowing the reader to see what a character does when they are squeezed… pushed…provoked…challenged… by life situations. People aren’t always what they seem. Take Mel Gibson. If there is a point of intoxication where you spout antisemetic rants, that’s who you are at your core. That kind of hate isn’t transient.
But then again, some people are what they seem. Which is equally fascinating.
Character in mind, I go in search of conflict to drive the exploration. It can’t be passive, not in a 90,000 word novel, but it shouldn’t be aggressive either; the conflict can’t win. Assertive conflict is the goal. Gracious, but unwavering.
I LIKED MY LIFE has three protagonists who are each others’ challenge and solution. The burden of guilt gets passed around like a bad cold, and as it does the reader sees each character more keenly. I don’t worry whether the protagonists can handle it—I manage that—I worry whether readers will find the conflict compelling enough to carry the story.
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