I'm relatively new to novel-writing. Granted, I've always loved to write, but writing a novel is something "real" writers do and calling myself a writer has been a struggle. It took three years to write my novel, to really, purposefully, create a story. I like my characters very much. I love them, actually. They're lovable, fun...but for a while they were very, very boring. I loved them so much, I didn't want any harm to come to them. That was a problem.
For several months I found myself stuck. Stuck in the muck of why isn't this working? I had a map of where my story was going, I liked where it ended, but I was taking the long, comfortable safe route with potty stops and 5-star restaurant meals along the way. We all like to travel in style, am I right? So I remained stuck. No one grew and life was good…for my characters.
And then it struck me.
Novel writing is a lot like mothering. If I protect my children from everything that might harm them, they live their lives in a cocoon. They don't try anything new because I'm afraid they might get hurt, or worse, get their precious feelings hurt. That's no way to parent. Kids grow through conflict. Kids flourish by doing. Kids learn through failure, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and trying again. They discern whom they can trust by putting themselves out there and getting burned. They experience loss and discover ways to survive and heal. They drop into an unmarked pit and have to dig themselves out. A hovering parent produces a stagnant kid. A hovering writer produces a boring book.
So, I kissed all of my characters on the head and told them I loved them.
Then I dropped them into a deep, deep hole.
They all fell in.
Every single one of them was shocked and hurt.
Their fears swirled around them and they searched for a way out.
I had the luxury of knowing what came next...mostly. I left a couple of them in the hole a little longer than others, but as a mother, or a writer, I knew it was for their own good.
It hurt me to see them like that, traumatized and afraid. They suffered…but eventually they healed and they grew and their story was more interesting because conflict is inevitable. We've all experienced it. Everyone relates to it. And a story, a life without conflict is colorless and barren.