Observing Real Life

Good writers observe. Instead, here’s what I do:

So I was walking to the post office this morning to mail out two copies of I Am The Devil. As I walked down the shaded walkways of the Yale campus, I passed by a perfect little boy playing in the grass next to his father, and their perfect little puppy dog happily wagging his tail.

At the post office, the postal worker was putting the moves on the gray-clad young woman in front of me. Apparently she was from California, and the man at the counter was killing time, mentioning how beautiful it was there.

After I left the post office, I passed by the father and son again, and the woman was there, standing by the child’s stroller. She said something like, “I’m going to go back for a minute.” The man angrily replied with, “Why; your nail? Your nail?” He repeated this, “Is it your nail?!” as the woman avoided answering. They were both very cold to each other, exposing the hollow shell of their marriage underneath their perfect child and puppy.

Good dramatic conflict, right? Not to me. After passing them my summary thought was just, “People from California are stupid.”

I mean, come on; there’s just something so artificial about an argument like that. Give me a break already. I’d much rather fill my plays with people playing board games and doing mind numbingly simple boring things than put them in contrived conflict. That’s partly why the whole “Alice’s sister” plot gets such short shrift, and Alice even comments on the overusage of “It isn’t your fault.” It’s all been done, and I’m not going to pretend the fresh magic of a conflict is still there when it’s not. If the conflict comes off artificial, I put it in an artificial setting, like the board games.

Observing real life doesn’t always pay off the way you might think it should.

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