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 wouldn’t call myself “conflict adverse,” but I would answer to “conflict forgetful.”

    When I’ve got my head down, going full tilt to turn into words what’s swirling around in my brain, I sometimes forget to include the emotions. To compensate, I use a variation of Dwight V. Swain’s Scene and Sequel Sequence technique, reminding me to include the Emotions beat.

    If writers want more details on how I overcame my “conflict forgetful” challenge, enter “The Trellis Method” into my site’s search box and you’ll see an infographic showing how the Emotions beat fits into the Scene and Sequel Sequence.

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  2. I detest conflict and avoid it at all cost. I rarely argue, but will if “pushed into a corner”. Then I will come out swinging so to speak. Those instances are very rare. Years ago, when I was 21, my fiancé broke up with me for a girl who had a lot of money and promised him everything. I cried for a solid month, until I realized I was better off without him and now I could make a life for myself. Now, that I am older and hopefully wiser, I just shake my head and walk away from most all conflict. We have more than enough conflict in the world around us. I don’t need to add to it.

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  3. Great post, Leslie! I still think you’re 100% sweet. So interesting that you are a trained lawyer as well as an author. I knew I would never make it as a lawyer because I would probably cry in the courtroom the minute the judge frowned at me or opposing counsel objected. I was brought up to avoid conflict/confrontation, but my emotions are usually all over my face. I used to write series books for teens–a lot of romance and friendship stories. Mystery was easier, because the sleuth had to remain cool-headed and logical for justice to be served. I’m still more Bess than Nancy.

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  4. I am definitely conflict adverse. I’ve put off some conversations I really need to have for years. It’s not healthy, but it’s what I keep doing.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I hate conflict with those I love. But I take it on when I need to confront someone who’s not doing their job or has effed up in a way that affects me or my family! But it’s gotten to the point where I literally feel my blood pressure rise… so I have to watch it!

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  6. I come from a huge family and if you didn’t speak up, you lost out! I don’t have any problem with speaking my mind to anyone (even the priest during Sunday Mass one day, much to my mother’s chagrin). I firmly believe there’s not any issue on earth that is so dangerous it can’t be discussed. I’m old enough to understand, however, that one should only choose battles for which one has energy to fight! ha

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    1. I think it all comes very naturally to me because growing up, we’d all be around the dinner table and my dad would throw out a controversial topic—women shouldn’t be allowed to drive; dogs are better than cats; there’s never a reason to go to an amusement park—and we’d all sputter an opinion that we’d then be forced to defend. I was a full grown adult before I realized he never believed any of the statements he made, it was simply an exercise to get us to think, form an opinion, and then articulate it.

      But then, of course, a parent has to live with their decision when Becky gets all up in a priest’s grill ……


  7. I was raised to ignore conflict, not recommended, and maybe all us conflict avoiders write about conflict to finally confront it. Also, when I first started writing, I had a hard time “hurting” my characters or making them suffer–in a violent murder mystery!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. So interesting to read these comments! Seems many of us prefer to work out conflicts on the page, myself included.

    When I first started writing, I was reluctant to have my characters experience conflict outside of the murdery crown jewel. I told one beta reader, “I don’t want to hurt my protagonist’s feelings!” to which he responded, “Hurting her feelings then watching her persevere is the point!” Yep. So true.

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  9. Leslie, I’m pretty non confrontational in real life. But I enjoy watching (or dreaming up) a good murder! So I get out my aggression reading or writing murderous thoughts. When I’m depressed, my husband teases me, saying, “ why don’t you watch a show where someone gets killed. It always cheers you up!
    I have no qualms about murdering someone in a manuscript. But I still tremble and get dry mouth if I have to ask for the manager.


  10. I am conflict averse also. But I will stand up for what is right. My husband and I had issues right after we finally got married (6 years dating, 13 years engaged and now this year will be 40 years married–he had a terrible mother and father experience), but it all worked out as I found out that I loved him but did not need him and that made all of the difference in our relationship. I think he had one of those midlife crises after waiting so long.


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