Thursday, January 15, 2009

Which Comes First: the Conflict or the Character?

This posting regards a comment made on the previous post, which asked the question: when I write, which do I determine first, the conflict or the character?

Writers might all answer that question differently, and it may even vary from one project to another, as it has for me. I'll show you what I mean.

In my story The Casket Girl, the title came first. Wait, that wasn't one of the choices, was it? I was researching the French and Indian Wars when I accidentally discovered the history of the casket girls who came from France to New Orleans and parts of Canada to help settle ?New France?. I was so intrigued by the reference that a story began to grow in my brain. From there I would have to say it was the conflict which came first. What if one of these girls came to marry a certain man and he was dead when she arrived, and she was inadvertantly indentured to someone, and then ran away and was kidnapped by a courier-du-bois, and then a frontiersman rescued her, and then the Indian wars began and...? You get the picture. Conflict galore.

The same could be said of The Green Veil and its sequel The Red Fury, my current work in progress. In book 1, wanted to write about the logging era of my home state. I also wanted to write about a girl who lost a childhood love and wound up marrying an older man, only to have her childhood love return to find her when it was too late. In book 2, I wanted to continue the story of those I call the Lumber Kings, while investigating the devastating effects of America's worst fire: The Peshtigo Fire. In each of these books I've thought of the history, the conflict, and then set characters in the situation and watched them grow. One of my biggest hurdles as a writer is to allow my characters to flesh out and grow before I pop them in the story which is spriraling along like an old film in my mind.

However, all that said, I don't always start with the history/conflict model.
Book 3 of the same series, which I hope to begin yet this year and title The Black Rose, is growing almost totally from the dispositions of two characters I have in mind. Beyond them the setting and conflict will arise. My short story Not For Love fits that same bill.

In the final analysis, I'd say that most of my stories arise from their historical settings before anything else. I love to investigate the events and places of history that all our personal stories arise from. I am Naomi Musch, that tomboy turned writer/farmer/homeschooling mom because of where and how I grew up and live today. My personal story will be vastly different from the ladies I'll be rooming with at the ACFW conference, for instance, whose lives are rooted in different regions than mine.

And that's another cool thing about telling stories. Maybe they've all been told. Maybe their themes and plots have similar threads. But they're all written on the hearts of individuals as different as God's own snowflakes. For that reason alone, we'll never run out of characters, conflict, or setting to write about.

Praise Him!

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

I love your last paragraph, Naomi! It's true that perhaps everything's been told already, but it's such an encouragement to be reminded that because we are all individuals made by God, we are going to see things just a little bit uniquely!