Apr 04

C is for conflict

Sin #2: No conflict!
It is one of the most important rules of fiction writing, one that is universal for all books regardless of genre or scope or audience:
A character must grow through conflict.
I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve read where the character seems to come across zero conflict; they just breeze through the story with complete indifference to everything going on around them…yuk!
Conflict is a natural part of everyone’s life – fictional or otherwise, an essential part of our existence, and as such can not be left out of a novel. Conflict gives your characters a chance to show what they are made of, how they deal with the rocks life throws at them…plus it’s interesting! And you want your story to be interesting, right?
Conflict is the opposing force which motivates characters into action; it doesn’t have to be an evil overlord with a maniacal cackle…although bonus points if you manage to get a ‘mwuahahahaha’ laugh into your story. It doesn’t have to threaten the characters life or the lives of their families; it doesn’t have to be an asteroid hurtling towards earth ready to end life as we know it.
No, conflict can be a lot ‘simpler’.
When I say simpler I mean in general terms, it won’t be simple for the character.
That’s the point of conflict; its impact is relative to each individual in your book.
For instance the conflict for your MC could be that his job is been threatened. It’s not life threatening and he can probably get a new job, but…then he wouldn’t be able to continue seeing the beautiful woman from accounts he meets every lunchtime; or maybe he’s having an affair with her and if he ‘ends it’ by losing his job, she’ll tell his wife; or maybe when he gets sacked they’ll suddenly discover he was stealing from petty cash every week…dun dun dun CONFLICT!!
Now Mr. Jobsworth has a motivation due to a force acting in opposition from his goals, an obstacle in the path of his, so far, happy life. Now the real fun begins as Mr. Jobsworth must take action to shape his own destiny, to defeat the conflict that is standing in his way.
So go forth and add conflict to your story! Make your characters interesting and likeable (or repulsive), by showing how they react when life throws rocks at them.
Chuck some of these at your characters, and see what they do! (The characters not the rocks)
Then when you’ve done that add a bit more conflict, and then a bit more.
And finally just a smidgen more…

6 comments

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    • Madeleine on April 4, 2011 at 13:31
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    Great post and images. Yes conflict can be subtle as well as very powerful in stories.:O)

    • Angela Felsted on April 4, 2011 at 14:08
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    I like that there are so many different kinds of conflict we can employ. Conflict from character to character, the inner turmoil a person puts themself through, even the conflict one may have with given objects in their surroundings. Good post.

    • Ellie on April 4, 2011 at 15:03
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    Conflict. Conflict. Conflict. The most important word in a writers vocab. Great post!

    Ellie Garratt

    • Sue H on April 4, 2011 at 15:24
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    I echo the above posts! Conflict engages the reader to decide whether they're empathising with your characters or else waiting to see them 'brought down'! Without conflict the storyline would be boring – but thwarting a character's progress livens things up a bit!

    Love the pebbles with eyes, btw! 😉

    • Hilary Melton-Butcher on April 4, 2011 at 17:43
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    Hi Steven .. absolutely we need conflict and tension in the stories .. otherwise like you I'm outta there .. cheers Hilary

    • Steven Chapman on April 7, 2011 at 09:47
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    Thanks for comments, people! Conflict is certainly the most important word in a writer's vocabulary…that and booze!

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