Novel Writing Lesson: My characters are not my friends.

Here... how about some MORE challenges!From the first page of notes, I already knew what a couple of Holly's biggest challenges would be. Holly is the main character in my novel, and while a handful of those challenges quickly morphed into different ones, conflict was never far from my mind. It's been years since I accepted the fact that readers and viewers won't care about a story if it doesn't have conflict. Got it. Check. My character has to face some hardship. It's a given I was ready to deal with.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Dena Harris and I spent a day working together. Ahem, working and playing and talking. More than half of our conversations turned toward writing; it's one of the things we have in common. But in spite of the fact that I've always thought of myself as a writer - and for years read the books that eventually convinced me of this belief - there's a difference between the kind of writing I've done and the act of writing an actual novel. Dena, who has made a living as a professional writer for years, is light years ahead of me. So I did what you would have done: I picked her brain all day long.

She told me something that's been playing in my head ever since. Referring to her characters, she said, "Then I ask whether or not I can throw up another roadblock for them. And then another..." When Dena said that she intentionally throws as many roadblocks at her characters as the story can possibly handle, I started to get nervous. I mean, hello! I'm a nurturer! I'm one of those people my friends call first if they're going through a crisis or just had a super awful day and have to tell somebody about it. I make it my mission to help them feel better. I'm often successful.

And now I'm learning that not only does Holly have to face crises of identity and relationship, and she has to grieve and struggle with guilt, and she has to solve some minor mysteries (I hesitate to even use the word: I'm not writing a mystery. So you know.) and face down people she's afraid of... but now you want me to really make her suffer?

Let's just say I'm workin' on it. It's been a few weeks since the concept arrived at the doorway to that novel-writing part of my brain, and although I've thought about it a lot, mostly I've just enjoyed writing the parts where Holly gets to enjoy herself. Where she gets to find an answer or two, and have a little fun.

Of course, even as I write this, it occurs to me that during the two scenes I have in mind while I'm writing this, there are minor conflicts happening. Maybe the idea has taken a stronger hold in my mind than I'd realized. With no effort on my part! My little conflict-averse mind will enjoy thinking this way for a little while longer.

Then I'm going to sit down and write a seriously conflict-laden scene. Because I know it will make my book more interesting, and my characters more complex. They are not my friends, see. They haven't called me on the phone to share a crisis. I'm creating their crises for them. And while the thought of that still makes me twitch a little, I'm going to see about approaching it differently. Who knows? Maybe it'll actually be fun to use the diabolical part of my brain!

But I can still let her have a happy ending. Right?

**Compass Photoshop brush used in graphic, by "photoshopranger." Thanks!