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Conflict: Fact or Fiction?

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

By the time we reach fifty, we should have our friendships in place...right?

So, not only do I have a lot going on with my kids, my writing, and trying to find a few bucks here and there to pay some bills, but I am learning a lot about myself and my friendships.

Conflict in friendship is inevitable. People have differing opinions, lifestyle choices, and personalities. Sometimes the friendships continue year after year, and sometimes they fall apart. One thing, however, stirs my quills when it occurs in real life...

Dishonesty. Disloyalty. Distrust. (Basically, being "dis-sed.")

It does, however, make for fascinating fiction. Most of us have had two-faced friends. You know, the person who is sweet and kind to your face but as soon as you turn your back, that knife is poised and ready to go in. I wrote a song about it for my punk band Shock Treatment back in the 80s. The chorus lyrics:

She's a backstabber

She makes me madder

When she talks about, when she talks about, when she talks about me.

She says some things

To make her phone ring

She wants popular, she wants popular, she wants popularity.

Okay, I realize I'm a little biased, but seriously, those lyrics totally rock, okay? And guess what? They ring true at any age. What does this mean for your fictional character? It can lead to tons of believable conflict for him or her!

It's painful and difficult to deal with in real life, after all, friends are there for support, adventure, nonjudgmental feedback. But what happens when a friend turns around and rallies with another friend and whispers unkind, unflattering words about you? And what happens when you know this is happening, but when you discuss it with these people, they deny it's happening? Do you trust your gut? Or believe them and hope you're doing the right thing by staying in communication with them? By placing a character in this situation, you can create a plethora of conflict throughout your story.

In the young adult novel I'm working on now, Hoops: The Sisterhood, my protagonist, Ellie, is befriended by the popular girls in her new school. She's always been an outcast until now, and she loves her newfound popularity. But these three girls are anything but her friends. They're motivated by their need to fit Ellie into their witch coven. In order to be powerful, they need five females descended from witches. Ellie fits the bill. But they make her, literally and figuratively, jump through hoops in order to become one of them. It's fairly obvious their friendship is superficial. But Ellie has a choice. She can walk away and return to being a misfit, or she can allow them to direct her life for their gain. And maybe there might be a third possibility, but as it remains, she hasn't found that option yet. And so, her decision relies on what she wants more: Popularity or freedom from oppression.

If you wish to write about dishonesty in friendship, you can usually find it in your own backyard. Think back to a time when a friend betrayed you. Or maybe it's even happening now. How do you feel about it? Does it make you feel unsafe? Confused? Angry? Apply these emotions to your character as she or he navigates a rocky friendship. And then consider the psychology of all the characters involved in this conflict. Is there some kind of jealousy? Most of the time, this is the case. Maybe the friend wants something your character has: a promising career, a caring boyfriend, natural beauty. Or maybe it isn't physical. Maybe she or he wishes they could be more charismatic? Outgoing? Confident? Funny? Whatever the reason, maybe your protagonist doesn't know why this friend is backstabbing them. But you, the writer, need to know. Even if you never share the backstory with your audience, you need to understand the motivation behind the nastiness. The conflict will come out stronger. And your reader will identify better with the problem and the characters.

In real life, no one wants to have to deal with a person who tears people down right and left because of their own insecurities. But in fiction? This stirs emotion if you do it right. The unfairness of it all. The helplessness. Most people can identify with these emotions. So do your story a favor. If you're going to throw in a dash of betrayal from a friend, do it right.

Your protagonist will overcome all, don't worry. And then decide the "friend's" fate. Karma is a bitch, after all.

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