Aug 24 2011

How To Get Conflict Going

Posted by Mathias in The Writing Process

I was sitting down today and thinking about conflict and how we as authors get to the conflicts that drive the stories we write.

Every story needs conflict.  Without it, nothing happens of any importance and no one cares about the story and the characters contained within.

As writers we must set up the conflict.  But before we can do that though we have to know what the conflict will be.  How you set up conflict is important and it is imperative that the reasons for conflict makes sense.  The best character in the world becomes boring without something that motivates him or her to move forward or backward in life.

To be honest, there really are not that many reasons conflict exists on a grand scheme although the details are what make them unique and intriguing to the reader.  Do not think for one minute that you have some unique conflict that has never been seen before.  Everyone major story arc has been tried and written at some point.  Again though, it is the details that make the story unique even if the overall plot driven by the conflict is not.

The following list is some of the more popular reasons for conflict that we, as authors, might want to consider before writing a story.

  • Limited Resources: In order to survive and prosper, people need things.  Be these things food or materials, if one person or group of people control the resources another person needs then conflict ensues.
  • Misunderstanding: Ah yes, miscommunication, one of the classic ways of introducing conflict between characters.  When someone does not get an important message, misunderstands or misinterprets a conversation or has a different recollection of events than someone else tension arises and can explode into a conflict.
  • Revenge: Someone is either truly slighted or simply feels slighted and thus spends their time trying to enact revenge on the person(s) that he or she feels set the wheels in motion.
  • Jealousy/Rivalry/Greed: A character is jealous of what another character has and commits themselves to either outdoing their rival or taking what their rival has.
  • I Just Don’t Like You: Irrational as it may sound, some people just do not like some other people and they spend their days and nights at each others throats.  Sometimes this conflict is one-sided and sometimes it is mutual.
  • Good Versus Evil:  Sometimes conflict just boils down to the simple concept of the white hats versus the black hats.  This ultimately always seems to the be the overriding reason for conflict in class epic fantasy.  Although, to be honest, sometimes things are not that clear cut.  Sometimes it is more interesting when it is the black hats versus the gray hats/not-so-black hats.  Sometimes the “purity” of a truly white hat hero is a little overdone in story telling.  All characters have flaws which should diminish their grandeur and make them more realistic and relatable.
  • Passions Versus Passions:  When a character wants to do something but is prevented from doing it by another character who desires the character do something else you can create conflict.
  • The Internal Struggle/Quest For Meaning: When a character has internal demons to confront which although maybe due to external forces of the past or present are battled within.  As the character struggles there is conflict.

There are other sources of conflict, but these are just some of the major examples.  Really good stories layer conflict.  Your main character can be driven by a revenge motive.  But perhaps on his travels he also embarks on a side quest for personal meaning in his or her life and overall the world is at war over a misunderstanding between the two most powerful nations.

 

Now we have added complexity to our story and added dimensions to it that make it move forward even when something pertaining to the main character’s main driving motivation is perhaps secondary to events of the moment.

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