A director told me once that if you put two actors together in a scene without directing them or staging the scene, the conflict would likely begin to diminish. If the actors were on opposite sides of the stage, they would likely gradually drift toward each other. Their voices would begin to match each other in tone and volume.
It is human nature to want to resolve conflict. We do not like the discomfort of not getting along with others. Human beings are pack animals, and the primal urge to belong should never be underestimated. This is why the role of the writer is courageous, because our job demands that we observe and offer our (sometimes contrarian) dispatches from the fringe. The first time Ibsen’s A Doll’s House played, the audience sat in dumbstruck silence at the final curtain. They could not conceive of a story that ended with a woman walking out on her husband. It just wasn’t done!
Artists, not scientists, predict the future most accurately. Actually I just made that up. I have no idea who predicts the future most accurately. It could be a consortium of dentists in Miami. The point I want to make is that there can be a tendency in the rewrite to tame the wildness of our first draft, to make sense of it, to neuter it, to make it something that we hope people will understand, to make it palatable, accessible. In short, to kill it. We don’t want to do this. We want, above all, to preserve the poetry of that initial draft.
As humans, we are geared to evolve, to find order in chaos. The seasoned writer understands that his job is to not only maintain the tension, but to allow it to build through complication. The tendency in the rewrite can be to not want to put our hero in hot water. We want to put our hero in some conflict, but not enough that we can’t control it. Our fear is that if we do this, our story might collapse, and after all the work we have put in already, after this great investment, we think that we cannot afford for this to happen. This fear may arise frequently for us in the rewrite, but if our initial premise is sound, we need not be concerned. Our only job in the rewrite is to hold the story loosely and continue to inquire.
When fear arises, it is natural that we want to try and solve the story problem as quickly as possible. Remember what Einstein said: “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem.” If we “solve” this problem with our brain, there will never be a transformation. Simply put, most story solutions are simple, but they are rarely linear. The key in solving the problem is to maintain the tension.
Our hero wants to resolve tension. Sometimes, what can happen is that the hero and the author’s fear meet in the back room and strike a deal behind the author’s back. We must be willing to follow through to the end with what it is that our hero wants.
Our stories are far more flexible than we may sometimes think. When we are willing to explore the vast reaches of our character’s experience, and allow our idea of the story to fall apart, only then is it possible for our story to truly live in all its specificity. We think our stories are only for others to read. At the core, they are nothing more than a document of our growth. We write them for ourselves.