Friday, 19 March 2010

The Spice of Conflict

Some years ago a friend got involved in a pet project and roped in lots of people to help. I was one of them. Things were fine for a while, then we had a blazing row and have never spoken since. I hadn't thought about it until another friend told me that she'd seen a book about the project.

I rushed out and bought a copy, immediately flicking through to find the bit with the row, dying to know her take on it. What would she say? Would she slag me off? Would she admit she was wrong? (Ha!) Would she present a version I didn't recognise? Would I be suing her for libel? Would she express regret that the friendship ended? I found the place.

"A helper left, never to be seen again."

Was that it? Apparently, yes. I scooted backwards, searching for another helper I knew who had also jumped ship after a row, who the author had verbally referred to as Miss Psycho along with colourful descriptions of her shortcomings. But however much I looked, there was no sign of Miss Psycho or her misdemeanours. Everything was lovely.

Tactful, yes. Interesting to read, no. The whole book was an exercise in tasteful blandness, all the rough edges smoothed over, no dissention in the ranks, no stitching up of personalities. Now, that's probably a good thing for the author personally, but it's not good for the readers. The book was self-published, and I'm not surprised. Avoiding confrontation and strong emotions we can do at home. We need the spice of conflict when we read.


Lizzie said...

HI Sarah,

This is another good example of feedback being invaluable.

A friend has just finished reading about three quarters of my novel. She enjoyed it and was very complimentary. Then she asked whether anything 'bad' happened to the heroine. Well, it does but later on.

That set alarm bells ringing. The heroine needed to struggle more. The real baddie had become an off page character, rather like a Silent in The Archers. So I'm now writing him in. It only needs a few scenes but they will give the story more conflict and the hero now has a good opportunity to be more heroic!

ATB, LIzzie

Sarah Duncan said...

And the value of being alert to what an idle comment really means, and what it implies for the book, and then how to act on it. Sounds like you've got that sussed, and it's going to add another layer to your novel. Well done, and good luck with it.