For quite a while now I've said that I don't write fiction, I write friction. I love this cartoon by Jan Eliot because it illustrates my theory. Writing as well as life is all about conflict, and it's about taking "the truth" and all of the rawness and ugliness and grating it like a beet on a razor's edge until you have the bloody ingredients for a soup of story- satisfying and staining.
I'm not saying that you have to torture yourself in order to write, but I must admit that having a difficult childhood, or going through trauma, or living on that roller coaster- not that merry-go-round makes for much better fodder for books. If everything went well, if things were always sliding smoothly in teflon-coated protective barriers- there would be nothing interesting to report. We learn by our mistakes and our failures, and we love to learn from others' mistakes and failures. It's like watching that train wreck from the safety of your living room.
I have taken Robert McKee's "Story Seminar, " which takes place in three ten-hour days. Your butt will hate you, but your brain will thank you for surviving it. Yes, this lecture is aimed at screenwriters, but it will help anyone who wants to write, as will the book, "Story," that basically is the seminar in book form. One of the many things that stuck with me- (no teflon here) is the concept of ever-increasing conflict in story structure. Your main character must continuously surmount levels of conflict that get worse and worse, and challenge the character more and more, until the ultimate climax, and swift resolution.
That is friction, my friends. And that is life. I don't know about you, but when things quiet down for me- in those very rare moments, I don't breathe a sigh of relief. I sit on pins and needles. I look down the tunnel. I wonder when that next train is coming. Will I get to watch it go by, or is it coming for me? Imbue your writing with that kind of anxiety, and you'll keep your readers turning pages. When the book sells, then you can coat yourself with teflon, or sun screen and go lie on a beach for a couple of weeks.
And don't forget to change the names.
Ann Denial (that's my name in anagram form.)