Monday, January 14, 2008

Agree to Disagree

My husband serves as the ecclesiastical supervisor (we call them district superintendents in our denomination) over eighty churches in east Ohio. One of the major responsibilities of his assignment is mediating church conflict. So, a typical evening will find him meeting with a church board and/or pastor to assist in resolving some sort of disagreement. Last night was no different. Knowing he might be heading into a rough church-board meeting, David asked me to accompany him and serve as the recording secretary so he would have a personal record of the evening's discussions.

We drove for over an hour to get to the church, then he ran herd over the disgruntled board for three hours. . .followed by a three-hour, one-on-one session with the local pastor and spouse before we started for home in a driving snow storm. We finally pulled back into our driveway at 2 a.m. My head was pounding, but I'd gained a fresh appreciation for my dear husband's ministry assignment.

I wrestled with thoughts such as, You're CHRISTIANS, for crying out loud! Can't we all just get along?! But, you know, I've been around church folks long enough to know that we are also still very human.

In Acts chapter six, verse one, we read of a dispute--a conflict--among those members of the very first church: In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the apostles appointed a committee of seven to resolve the issue.

Conflict may not be fun, but it is nothing new. As long as there are humans, there will be conflict.

In fiction, conflict should never be avoided. In fact, conflict is NECESSARY. Without conflict, you have no story. You may have great character studies and wonderful descriptions, but if there is not a constant tug-of-war between desire and denial--i.e., CONFLICT--you have a weak plot at best.

Don't be afraid to throw your story's cast of characters into conflict. I've known some meek and mild authors who avoid conflict in their novels like they avoid it in real life. They'd rather die than make things too difficult or tense for their characters. If this is a weakness of yours, it's time to get tough!

One of the best writing-how-to books I know of in terms of stressing the importance of plot conflict is Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. (I believe it is only available online at:

Although we'd all like to steer clear of conflict whenever possible, I suppose its one of those life-realities that will always be with us--both as writers AND as Christians.

Shush! Don't tell the boss. . .but I'm off to catch a Power Nap!


CHickey said...

Conflict in fiction is fun!

Susan Page Davis said...

When I started writing fiction, my husband was very uncomfortable with my portrayal of conflict, especially between Christians. He would read a chapter and say, "You're bad! How can you make him do that?" Thirteen books later, he understands, and now he tells me if the tension isn't strong enough.

Mary Connealy said...

In one of my earliest exposures to a writer's group one of the members said something I've always remembered as to conflict:

"Whatever he HAS to HAVE, HAS to destroy her(or her dream or her happiness or her family...)."

Very simple to remember and it rings true.

Just up the stakes.
He's a fireman. She's suspected of arson.

He'll go broke if he doesn't bring a WalMart to mainstreet, she's president of the Main Street Historical Preservation Committee.

Something so fundamental is in conflict between them that only True Love can overcome it.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

Mary, you're so good at this.

Wow, it is wonderful ministry that your husband has and while it may be sad that Christians (can't we all just get along?!) need such a ministry, it is so true that even Christians are human and still need Christ's love and grace. (And we sure didn't turn perfect overnight!)