Conflicted About Conflict

One of the notes I got from my editor after turning in the manuscript for my very first Sally Solari mystery, Dying for a Taste, was this (paraphrased): “I want to know what Sally feels about the conflicts she’s facing. You need to show us more of the emotions she’s experiencing, especially with regard to her father and her ex-boyfriend, Eric.”

Right. More emotions; bring out the conflict. Sounds simple enough, yes? Not it you’re conflict averse, it isn’t.

Now, those of you who’ve met me likely think I’m this super-sweet, easy-going gal who has no issues with anyone and loves everyone she meets. Nope. I simply act that way, because if I do have a problem with somebody, I sure as shootin’ don’t want to get into any kind of argument about it. You see, I’m not that comfortable with friction in my life, and I work very hard to avoid it.


(Okay, okay. I admit that I am in fact generally a super-nice gal who does likes pretty much everybody. But I can assure you that in those rare instances when I do have a problem with someone, my instinct is to stay away and avoid the conflict at all costs.)

Everyone always says to “write what you know.” So I figure that unless I’m actually intimately familiar with an emotion, I probably won’t do it justice on the page. So how on earth was I supposed to write about the emotions that come from conflict?

I decided to do a sort of Stanislavski-esque, “method acting” rehearsal with myself, before sitting down to beef up my conflict scenes. The Russian acting coach, Konstantin Stanislavski, believed in the “art of experiencing,” and encouraged his students to actually feel the emotions they were portraying, and to reach into their memories to draw upon life experiences and feelings comparable to those they were portraying on the stage or screen.

I therefore thought hard about what Sally was going through: She and Eric had broken up, but remained good friends. So what did it feel like to realize he might be interested in someone else romantically? And how does Sally react when her father is deeply hurt and angry that she no longer wants to work at the family restaurant?


It seemed a little odd, but as I reached inside to channel memories of similar experiences, I found myself truly feeling those emotions: my pulse sped up, I got a tightness in the gut, and I could sense my face flushing. Grabbing my laptop, I tried to articulate in words what it was I was feeling. And when I was done, I was emotionally spent.

Yes, conflict is indeed hard, and I’m going to continue to do my best to keep it limited to my books.

Readers: Are you conflict averse? Or have you ever had to do something emotionally challenging in order to achieve a result you wanted?

29 thoughts on “Conflicted About Conflict

  1. I hear you, Leslie. I heard similar comments from my first agent. I had my character going through the motions without much emotion. I think this is generally a problem with first books. We aren’t used to putting ourselves (our characters) out there, and it is a bit embarrassing to show emotion. The whole time I was writing I was aware that readers who knew me would probably think the main character was me and included some of my experiences. In fact, my sister asked me if one thing in the book had happened to me. As a new writer, it was hard to get past that. I felt that I should explain in the acknowledgments that my mother is a kind individual and nothing like the mother in my book.

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    1. So true, Grace! I hadn’t ever really thought about it that way, but I think you’re right–there is the fear (sometimes correct) that people will think the emotions your character is going through are yours. (I’ve had lots of people refer to Sally as “you,” when talking to me.)

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  2. Fun post! I’m definitely conflict-averse, although I’ve gotten braver about it as I’ve gotten older. I’ve found dealing with a conflict saves a lot more time than stewing about it. I love how you described tapping into your own emotions! As a recovering performer who trained in a lot of Stanislavski, what you were doing is called sense memory. Thanks for reminding me about this. I’ll be using it in my own writing!

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  3. Conflict-averse. That describes me, too. In the book I just finished, my main character has major conflicts with her love interest, his snarky mother, and her own daughter. I had a hard time facing those chapters. BUT once I started, I kinda liked writing conflict. Maybe I’m not super-nice after all.

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  4. I’m definitely conflict-adverse and will go out of my way to avoid it as much as humanly possible. My agent recommended I look into The Emotional Thesaurus to help with my emotional descriptions, which sounds a lot easier than dredging up painful memories 🙂

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  5. Leslie, this hit home in a big way for me. I often say that I’m allergic to conflict. In fact, I sometimes feel as though I’m about to go into anaphylaxis when things get really tense!

    I typically deal with conflict by not dealing with it, by smoothing and soothing and joking. But as you said, we don’t have that luxury with our books. So I reach back to those uncomfortable moments of conflict (Stanislavski! sense memory! now I have words for this!!) and imbue Maggie or Constantine (or whoever) with those feelings. It’s painful but necessary for progress. Which I guess is a whole lot like real life.

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  6. I think all normal people are conflict-averse. Why would anyone in their right mind invite conflict into their lives?? So I think it’s hard to force conflict/tension/bad juju on our characters whom we love so much. Of course, that’s the sweet spot for fiction, to find those moments and explode them. In real life, however, there has to be a reeeeeally good reason for me to have some sort of confrontation. The older I get, the more I understand that people carry baggage, and some days it’s awfully heavy for them. If they’re lucky, when we have a conflict, I’m only carrying a clutch bag so I can make a joke, offer a kindness, or take part of their load, then walk away easier.

    But I do kinda want to poke you until you go all honey badger on me, Leslie.

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  7. Leslie,
    I am in the minority. I am not conflict adverse. I don’t initiate it. But if someone starts something with me, look out! I will keep at it until I have to walk away so I don’t cry in front of anyone. What can I say? My dad is a Marine from PA. It’s something about the water.

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    1. I don’t think you’re necessarily a minority. My wife is most definitely NOT conflict averse, and so I’m used to being around folks like that. And in many ways I’m jealous, because it seems so much easier. She’s not a jerk or anything; she simply wears her emotions more on her sleeve, and is willing to emote in public in a way that I’m not.

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  8. Great post, Leslie! I tend to be non-confrontational. I also tend to deflect conflict with humor—and oddly enough, so do my characters! Of course my characters have to have conflicts and confrontations to keep things interesting, but in real life I’m okay with things mostly being peaceful and boring!

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  9. Loved this post, Leslie!!! I solved that pesky conflict problem by making both of my sleuths conflict-averse. The senior sleuth relies on her considerable diplomacy skills (her occasional pointed remarks often conveniently soar over the other characters’ heads) and her twenty-something co-sleuth is a queen of denial. So I’m totally off the hook, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh, love the description of you “feeling it” (literally) and putting that onto the page! So cool. It made me think about how powerful the emotions physically are when we stop to pay attention. Brava.


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