Change and Conflict

So my weekend was full of change. Granted, a fair amount of it had needed to happen for a while–my mattress and my bed frame were not playing well together, to the point that I not only added a couple of boards to the frame, but then stuck all of my old pillows between my frame and the mattress.

On Sunday, one of Mom’s friends called her up and said, “Hey, I’m getting rid of the bed in the guest room. It’s practically brand new–do you want it? If so, come over and get it.” Mom, knowing about my bed situation, said “I’ll round up Connor and we’ll be there by 4.”

So I spent most of Sunday blitz-cleaning my room, discovering both things I thought I’d lost forever (my new carry-everywhere-just-in-case notebook; my microSD card for my new Nook) and things I only wish I’d lost forever (some lube packaging that was supposed to have gone into the recycling bin months ago turning up, happily bright orangey-red and obvious, among the stuff under my old bed).

I also discovered that I own entirely too many clothes. I don’t need all of them, and I certainly don’t wear all of them. In a bold move, I actually threw away some socks because I didn’t wear them, they didn’t have mates, and they weren’t worth giving away. Some things went into a give-away box, but not nearly enough. Since the idea was to get enough room for my new bed, I didn’t take the time to do a thorough cull–but I will.

My new bed is awesome, by the way. No head or foot boards, but that’s not a big deal–I can get those later. The lady who gave it to me threw in two sets of sheets, two standard pillows and one body pillow/bolster, a memory-foam topper, a bed skirt, and a heated mattress pad (though we walked off and left the cord behind, oops). Oh, and a dark purple blanket-with-sleeves-that-isn’t-a-snuggie-as-far-as-I-know, though that was intended for the Unofficial Nieces.

It’s taking a little getting used to, both in terms of sleeping in it and in its presence. It’s been a while since I’ve had a bed this tall, not to mention one where I’m in danger of falling out of either side. (My old bed was a twin-sized mattress (no box spring) that was in the corner, so I tended to end up against the wall. The new one is a double/full with box spring, and only the head is against the wall.) I’m exceedingly happy with it, though, especially after having discovered the hard way that a saggy mattress really does affect your back, and that in turn affects things like, say, being able to walk. Sleep. Think.

What does all of that have to do with conflict? Everything! No, wait, bear with me.

Once upon a time, I was grumbling about conflict. That fighting made me tired, and writing characters who fought all the time was just as tiring. Reesa, who is wise beyond her years, pointed out that just because the usual word used as shorthand for “stuff that moves the story forward in small, smooth increments” is “conflict” doesn’t mean that it’s all about fighting.

This fascinating (and totally worth reading!) article starts with the statement that, “In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other.”

The author of the piece argues that there are other options, but the premise–that “conflict” is inherently violent, requires a “winner”, and that violence is the only tool in the western story-telling arsenal–is the same one I started with. And it’s not true.

Part of the problem is with the connotations of the word “conflict”. People have used the word “conflict” as an euphemism for “war” (or massacre, or genocide) for so long that probably at least two generations have grown up internalizing that connotation.

You can find conflict in the most mundane of tasks. Take changing a light bulb, for instance. The first conflict is one’s desire for light, but alas, there is none. No one wins or loses anything, in this case — it’s just a fact: I want the light on, but the bulb is burned out. So I have to go find a new bulb, which isn’t too difficult, and something to stand on.

Ah! The stepladder. It’s downstairs. So I have to put the new bulb somewhere safe (so the cats don’t knock it down and break it, and where I won’t forget it), then tromp downstairs to find the ladder. I find the ladder, but… It’s behind a bunch of boxes, which I have to move before I can get to it. And before I can move the boxes, I realize that I have to go to the bathroom, which means I have to go back upstairs…

See? You thought changing a light bulb was boring! Getting ready for my new bed was the same way. Very little actual violence (there was a bit of recyclable-tossing), but plenty of conflict that didn’t necessarily have a winner or a loser. There are ways in which it is possible to have a negative outcome–dropping the vacuum’s dust-cup full of, well, dust and cat hair and fuzz and crumbs and God only knows what onto the freshly-vacuumed floor, for instance. Or attempting to adjust the blinds and having them fall down. Or any of a million other ways that things go pear-shaped.

The point is, you can write a story without violence, without people clashing and without defining who/what “wins” and who/what “loses” — but you cannot write one without adjectives or adverbs.