A Writer’s Quote Series: Episode Six
I love the blunt simplicity of this quote by the science fiction writer, Nancy Kress:
“Fiction is about stuff that’s screwed up.”
I like this quote because it hits the conflict nail on the head. We writers have heard it a million times; stories must have conflict (you know, the screwed up stuff).
Think about it. People live with constant conflict: car won’t start, hurricane blows in, road rage, depression, overzealous boss, cheating spouse, illness, dog ate your shoes, bee stings, colicky baby, kitchen fires, drug addiction, bad grades, itchy skin, speeding ticket. Every day contains some varying level of screwed up-ness.
But, because of this conflict, we change and grow as people. Because of this conflict, our characters change and grow as well.
Conflict: big or small?
I used to think coming up with conflict in my writing was difficult because I thought it had to be earth-shattering every time. It doesn’t. Anything that challenges a character on any level or forces them to make a decision can be seen as conflict.
Heck, I’m conflicted anytime I find a bug in my house. Should I stomp it or trap it and set it free? Will I live with the guilt of insecticide or the relief of knowing the little fella will still have a chance out in the world? What does my internal conflict about whether or not to kill a bug say about my character?
These small conflicts reveal a lot about the characters in your stories and make a reader question what they would do in a similar situation.
But don’t shy away from conflict whoppers. These are the conflicts that make a reader’s heart somersault: a bomb goes off, someone gets kidnapped, an epidemic wipes out all of New York City. There’s nothing like a big external conflict to reel a reader in, and face it, you’ve got to fight for a reader’s attention.
Fiction is powerful for readers because it allows them to safely explore other ways to deal with life’s inherent conflicts. And writers of fiction have a unique opportunity to explore and work through their own screwed up stuff while dancing on the page.
I’d love to know what this Nancy Kress quote means to you, so leave me a comment below!
Catch up on the rest of my Writer’s Quote series:
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the new nonfiction book, Surviving Revision: How One Writer Finished What She Started. She has also written several books on yoga and meditation, as well as a travel memoir about the time she, her husband, and their handicapped cat moved to Ecuador.
When Kris isn’t writing at her standing desk, she can be found playing chess, folding an origami crane, or practicing a Bach French Suite on the piano. She lives in Rock Hill, SC with her husband and two cats.