Conflict is drama if Hollywood is to be believed. It is the root of all adventure, the spice in all romance, and the gut-wrenching horror in all…well, horror. Without conflict, ours stories wouldn’t really go anywhere. There would be nothing to disrupt the status quo of a character’s life and no reason to follow them further than the first page. We would invest nothing more in them than a passing glimpse, maybe even a mutual nod, before they vanished from our lives and our libraries forever.
A story without conflict is just an account of someone’s day and unless that person is the President of the USA, or some other make believe creature, that’s going to make for some pretty boring reading. Actually, it’d still be touch and go even then unless there was the threat of nuclear war or a crack team of North Korean special forces attacked the White House…oh, wait! That’s conflict.
We at Sarcastic Muse thrive on conflict. When we’re not at each other’s throats, we’re writing about monsters ripping out other people’s throats…actually that’s just me and Amanda…scratch that.
There are two types of conflict from which all others stem: Internal and External.
External conflict is the most common. This is a force imposed on the character from a source outside their own body. It could be man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. machine. The list is endless.
Internal conflict is an exerting force acting from within the character. It can be a compulsion, a shift in persona or outlook, or something as simple as a loss of memory.
Whatever form conflict takes, it will be the driving force in your story. It will keep your character searching for that pot of gold we writers know as resolution.
1. Pay attention to your genre
Some genres come with pre-defined conflicts. Crime isn’t crime without…well crime. Romance too has a number of preset and well used conflict types. These are great to get the old noggin-hamsters running but don’t let them confine you.
2. Conflict should have a purpose
Arguments for the sake of arguments are fun and all but they don’t make for great fiction. Likewise, unfathomable plots and non-stop action can easily lead to your reader getting lost. Use conflict to propel your story forward, but let the reader keep up.
3. Setbacks keep the pressure on
Just as writing begets writing, conflict is conflict’s playmate. Keep your characters permanently on their toes by placing stumbling blocks in their way. Torture them until such time as you decide to reward them (or not) with their much desired resolution.
4. Conflict should be natural
Conflict can be unexpected, it can be unusual, it can be something nobody ever imagined before, but it MUST be logical within the confines of the story world. The threat of human extinction by solar gamma radiation is a good conflict pit that against a femme-fatale scientist has all the hallmarks of a Tinseltown blockbuster. And yet, all that hard work goes out the window when you set it in Ancient Rome or even Brontë’s Yorkshire.
Okay, cards on the table time. I’m writing this post in response to a rather diabolical (no pun intended) movie I watched recently. I won’t say which but the plot involved the sacrifice of a family in order to expel a demon that was threatening a small town. Fine so far, right? It all falls apart when you discover that the demon in question was raised for the sole purpose of accepting the sacrifice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole problem would have just gone away if they never raised the damned (pun intended this time) thing in the first place. This leads me nicely into my final point…
5. Conflict should not be easy to resolve
Make your characters work for it and even then, don’t always give it to them.
Do any of you have a problem with conflict in your writing? Any other tips you wish to share? Do you all agree about the demon thing?