Sooner or later, life gets hard. It’s the way of the world. You can’t get out of it, and how you respond is part of what makes you who and what you are. It’s in the hardest times that you have to show what you’re made of. Perhaps for that reason more than any other, fiction focuses on times of conflict and difficulty in the lives of its characters.
The people you see in a story, the heroes and villains, the protagonists and antagonists, show you who and what you could be. In some ways, they are set to destroy one another. It’s that possibility that brings tension to the story, makes it gripping and makes you pay attention.
But at the same time, its very rare for destruction to be what people want. Once again, verisimilitude rears its head. Most people don’t want to be destroyers, they want to be creators. Unfortunately, both are a part of our nature. In the struggle of conflicting goals and ideas, either can result. A person can do a great deal of both in a single story, to say nothing of a full lifetime.
The result is a dynamic as familiar as story and song themselves. Sometimes, when people pass through conflict they find on the other side that the people they’ve struggled with have made them stronger and better. The book of Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.” While they may not thank their adversary for the lessons they’ve learned, they are still the better for them.
Crucibles purify gold and men alike.
I have always been fascinated by the dynamic between protagonist and antagonist, and I’m far from the only one. Lots of people have tackled the issue. There’s even have a particular term for the relationship between people who don’t hate each other, but can’t help fighting from time to time: “frenimies”. (Also, marriage, although that implies a closer relationship.)
Next week I hope to kick off a story that examines exactly how people change during conflict. The struggles we work through are not just circumstances or unfortunate happenstance, they are a chance to grow. We may not like it or want it, but if we want to really become the people we’re meant to be, we’ll have to seek that growth.
Because when iron strikes iron, the sparks will fly. And if we’re unlucky enough, the sparks will catch, and the sharpening of iron can become a trial by fire. Whether we come out tempered or broken will depend on what we’re made of.