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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Many Branches of Conflict

Sunday afternoon one of Iowa’s legendary thunderstorms ripped two enormous limbs from a honey locust tree in our backyard. One hit the deck and the other one landed on the roof of the sunroom. I was upstairs closing windows against the rain when the branches—bigger around than my waist—crashed onto our house.

No real damage was done, except to the poor, ripped-up tree, but it’s going to take a lot of effort to clean up the debris. The limb on the sunroom is pinning down the one on the deck, and the branches are intertwined like a giant game of Pick-up Stix. If we cut the branches in the wrong order, the whole mess will come crashing down on top of us.

This morning, while I was selectively sawing off branches and dragging them down the hill to our brush pile, it struck me that what sucks in life makes the best kind of plot.

As a writer, I invent conflicts for my characters. Sometimes their troubles come crashing down like giant tree limbs. Sometimes they build up slowly and almost unnoticed, like falling leaves. But whatever kind of conflicts there are, they must be significant and not easily solved. The most interesting conflicts are so complex that characters need to use many strategies to find their way out of the mess I’ve put them in. And, if they choose the wrong branch in their journey, life will come crashing down on them.

Eventually, though, characters work their way out of the disaster and come out stronger on the other side. And if they have some scars like our locust tree--well, that's life, isn't it?


Jennifer Echols said...

This is so true. And in addition, that tree is going to show up in one of your books someday--not any time soon, but much later, when you think you've forgotten all about it.

Good luck with the clean-up. It looks like it was a beautiful tree, but it also looks like you have a lot more where that came from.

MssJos said...

I'm glad there was no serious damage or injuries! I'm also looking forward to reading about that tree in one of your future novels (I think Jenn is right!)

Nothing like a tree crashing through your house to inspire some literary analysis :) We all know it's the strongest characters who are capable of "weathering the storm."

Take care Jan!

jenny O'Connell said...

Must say, that's a very cool way to look at it.

Out of troubles/pains comes the most interesting stuff. Sorry it had to land on your roof, though!

Jan Blazanin said...

Thanks! We finally got our branches cleared away. Now you've all got me thinking about how to work that catastrophe into my next plot.