Writing 101 – Conflict


(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

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.

Using conflict

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?



Coming soon from Sarcastic Muse Press –  Jane Eyre: Mass Extinction by Chris Musgrave and the bits of Charlotte Brontë I could find.

My Dirty Little Secret

Title roped you in, didn’t it? Hah, you think it’s a smut article because I write romance. Well that’s not the case today because my dirty little secret is only dirty because I’m a writer, and this is one hefty confession.


I hate conflict.

Hate it with a passion that cannot be rivaled. In my personal life, I avoid it like the plague. Won’t go near it, no thank you. I don’t care if I’m right and I have a signed affidavit confirming my opinion. Not even if God himself came down and stood as my witness would I engage in a debate or dive into a fight. Nope, not gonna do it. But I will warn you, if you mess with my children, I will chase you to the gates of hell and chain you there. Okay, so there is one thing that will push me into action, but besides that I’m content to take the easy path and stay out of any and all forms of conflict.

Why is this a dirty secret? And what does my intense dislike of conflict have to do with writing?

It has everything to do with writing because at the core of every story is the conflict driving the motivation of the characters. This is where my growth as a writer has taken a hit. It takes every ounce of courage for me to throw my characters into a situation where they must fight to come out stronger.

I’m not like the rest of the Muses. I don’t like to torture my darlings. Even if they tell me that’s where their story is heading I’ll redirect them and point to a clean page saying, “Look, there’s a nice quiet pasture with pretty flowers and bright sunshine. Come join me for a glass of iced tea and some fresh cookies!”

This behavior is contradictory to what is expected of me as an author. There is no growth for the characters, no motivation, no sweet victory to achieve if there is no conflict to overcome. So in my avoidance, I have failed my characters. They deserve to struggle, to fight, to taste the intoxicating nectar of triumph, or endure the humbling pain of defeat.



I remember the different types of conflict in literature from my high school English classes. (Don’t get your feminist panties in a bunch…I mean man as in a person in general, could be male or female.)

Man vs. Man

Man vs. God/Fate

Man vs. Technology

Man vs. Self

Man vs. Society

Man vs. Supernatural

Man vs. Nature

But my problem still stands. I naturally avoid conflict. So how do I train myself to challenge my characters and myself by diving into a story and throwing in a healthy dose of “oh man I’m so screwed, how am I gonna get out of this one” mentality? I just don’t think this way.  I know I’m not being realistic when I avoid it. Reality sucks and there are constant challenges we face on a daily basis. Maybe I’m too nice? My heart hasn’t twisted and shriveled like some of the blackened hulls of muscle I’ve seen lying around this place. By the way, that was totally a compliment my fellow muses. *grins* Thumbs up for being sadistic mothers/fathers who like to torture their creations.

I guess this is just part of my journey as a writer. Conflict…you and I need to have a long chat. I can’t write without you. And you, well, you intimidate me in ways that make me want to curl up in the fetal position and sob for days. Thanks for that.

Do you have any advice for me? How do you deal with writing conflict?