By Sara Davison
I am a middle-child, a Canadian and a Christian. I’m the ultimate peace-keeper. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than conflict in real life. In a book, though, that’s (literally) another story.
I once read a book where the set-up to a confrontation at the end was beautifully done. All the elements were in place. A young woman found out that she was pregnant. The father of the child had no desire to be with her or to take responsibility for another human being. He sent the mother money and ordered her to “take care of the problem”. She refused and eventually gave birth to a daughter. As the daughter grew up, she wondered often about the father she had never met. She knew that her father had wanted her aborted and that he had refused to have anything to do with her for her entire life. Still, she couldn’t get him out of her mind, and experienced a deep need to one day meet him face to face.
When the opportunity arose, she traveled to the country where he lived and arranged a meeting. As she approached the home, my tension level was matched only by a my anticipation to read about their confrontation and to find out if it could possibly be resolved. The conflict would be intense, I knew. How could a relationship face any more severe test than theirs had? If they could weather the storm that would inevitably happen when they faced each other for the first time, could express raw, honest emotion and find a way to work through the deep pain and betrayal to forge any kind of meaningful relationship in the end, then there was hope for my life, for the lives of those experiencing unimaginable hurts around me, hope even perhaps for the world. I literally moved to the edge of my seat as she was ushered into his presence, and I held my breath, waiting for the confrontation to begin.
It never did. When he saw her, the father took her hands and, tears streaming down his face, begged for her forgiveness. She immediately replied that of course she forgave him, that the past was behind them and they could now begin the relationship she had longed for all her life. It was a beautiful moment.
And I was furious. My pent-up emotions had no opportunity for release. Anticipation had been pricked, the air leaking out like a days-old balloon. I actually threw the book across the room and refused to finish the last few pages. Rarely had I ever felt so let down in my life.
Like suffering, conflict between characters in a story touches the reader on a deep level. Whether or not we enjoy conflict, and most of us don’t, it is an inevitable part of the human experience. The spiritual realm is in conflict. The physical world we live in is in a constant state of war and diplomatic tension. On a smaller scale (hopefully), we experience conflict at school, at work and in our own homes. Conflict is the inevitable result of the Fall, and of the emotional and psychological ramifications of not living the life of union with God and with others that we were created to live: frustration, disappointment, anger, jealousy, uncertainty, betrayal, fear. Conflict in real life exacerbates those emotions. Conflict in story allows us to face those emotions in a safe, distanced environment. When conflict is resolved, those emotions are replaced with other, more positive ones: peace, triumph, the joy of restored relationship, inner strength, courage, hope.
The build-up toward conflict in a book is a promise to the reader. The absence of conflict at the end of all that build-up is a broken promise. A glorious opportunity missed. The opportunity to lead a reader through the minefield of words and deeply felt emotions to eventual safety and healing on the other side. To give encouragement and hope that, if the characters in the story can work through their issues, so can the reader.
And to remind us that one day, in a final, awe-inspiring confrontation, all conflict will be resolved and we will experience complete restoration of relationship once again.
Word smith Sara Davison won the Word Alive Press Free Publishing Contest in 2010 for The Watcher. Want to try your hand at our contest? Learn more here.
About this Contributor:
Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Visit Sara’s website: Choose to Press On
Facebook: Author Sara Davison