A big thing on my mind these days is that I’m traveling to Costa Rica in a few weeks. My friend is organizing some arts-related events for International Women’s Day, and he asked me to give a workshop. I’m actually doing two workshops–a half day, and one that is a bit longer. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this, and I am–no big surprise here–feeling quite anxious. I’ll feel better once I have a lesson planned truly mapped out. I have a lot of things I want to talk about, but I need to make choices, and I need to have an order of presentation, and I need to understand that I won’t be able to jam three years worth of full-time education into 3-5 hours.
My tendency toward anxiety aside, this is a really nice opportunity. I’m at the end of my university education, in the phase where I should be “putting it all together” and I’ve found that nothing forces me to have to organize my thoughts and metabolize my own learning like having to explain it to someone else. So that’s where I’m at now.
The need to explain things often necessitates reading and reviewing of various concepts, and occasionally this leads to small epiphanies. I had one of these last night. I was reviewing the idea of antagonistic forces in a story: There are three locations of these forces that will test the attributes and character of the protagonist: 1) In a person (including anthropomorphized characters in animation!) whose own objectives are counter to that of the protagonist. 2) In an antagonistic or indifferent world–be that a natural world with earthquakes and avalanches, or a societal construct that works against the hopes of the protagonist. 3) Within the protagonist him/herself–when two aspects of a character are at war with each other.
It is this final aspect that has always fascinated me–characters who work against their own wants or needs. “Conflicted” characters… a Dr. Jekyll who wants to pursue his own life and love, and a Mr. Hyde who comes along and sabotages his progress toward that. My fascination is born, no doubt, from a deep empathy for conflicted characters, being one myself. I want to do a lot, and accomplish a lot–but I have a lot of the kind of baggage that makes these things difficult.
My small epiphany had to do with how I conceive of the conflicting desires. Each one needs to be positive unto itself. By that I mean, the phrase is not: I want to speak freely, BUT I’m afraid people won’t like me if I do. It is that there are aspects: One wants to speak freely, AND the other desperately wants to be liked. Phrased this way, I can see the two “warring factions” more clearly. In any interaction, there will be a struggle between the part of me that wants to be honest and authentic regardless of the consequences, and the one who wants bask in the approbation of others.
It’s possible you don’t see the epiphanic aspect of this at all. It is small, and it is something that I am sure I have been told countless times, and at some level knew already–and yet, last night when I thought about it, something clicked. Like a jigsaw puzzle piece that’s approximately the right area–you know where it goes–but then you really press it into place and feel it lock in between the other pieces, and how it fits perfectly. The whole experience of it just became a little more solid.
I’m in the midst of conceiving my rewrite for Children of Others, and this is helpful. I’ve always felt that Skylar is a conflicted character–but readers have had trouble relating to her emotionally, and I’m hoping that rethinking her warring wants can help remedy this.