by Maureen Lang
There have been countless books, blogs and workshops devoted to the topic of conflict, mainly because of the three biggies in fiction writing, Goal, Motivation and Conflict, the greatest of these is conflict.
Without conflict, the goals of your character would come too easily, with or without proper motivation. And then where would your story be? Over before it’s even begun.
Conflict is vital not only to keep those pages turning, but conflict sets the pace. It’s conflict-or more precisely your character’s reaction to conflict-that deepens and makes more real the characters you create. Conflict is where depth of emotion can really shine, and that’s what good fiction is all about. Connecting emotionally to a reader.
This is why, as I’m plotting each new story I write, I keep conflict in mind more than any other aspect. There must be a steady build toward the greatest conflict, that black moment just before the end of a successful novel. If I come to a portion of the story that I’m not thrilled to be writing, chances are there is a lack of compelling conflict.
On the other hand, is it possible to overdo conflict? It is if you lose focus of your story by introducing unrelated tangents or rabbit trails-in other words, manufactured conflict that isn’t vital to the story. So keep these things in mind as you decide how to optimize the conflict in your story:
First, define the core of your conflict. Is your conflict found in a villain (man against man) or within the character himself (man against himself)? Or is it man against nature, man against society, man against God (or in some definitions destiny)? Obviously an author might use more than one of these basic conflicts, but it’s important to keep your focus on what your character is fighting against during the course of the story.
The old advice about keeping it simple works here, too. Don’t let your conflict get so convoluted your readers can’t keep it all straight.
Conflict at its best is a hole so deep and dark that the reader absolutely must keep reading just to find out how in the world the character will overcome to reach a satisfying ending. Even with a tragic ending, the conflict along the way must have served a purpose. Has the character learned and grown in a way they couldn’t have had they not faced such an obstacle? Has it changed them forevermore, hopefully for the better (for a satisfying ending) but if not, was justice served?
For a few words in closing, conflict must be:
• Fit the size of the story (neither too great nor too small)
• Best chosen to reveal who your characters are-someone weak who must become strong? a meek person who must become bold? a naive person who must become wise?
• Conflict is directly related to action, so keep a balance with some breathing room between, but steadily build your conflict
Remember: conflict is where the fun is! So go have some fun today.
Maureen Lang has been writing stories of history and romance since she was ten. Since then she’s become the award-winning author of over a dozen novels, most published with Tyndale. Her newest novel is a romance set in 1880s Denver titled All In Good Time. Visit her on the web at www.maureenlang.com.
I’m at the midpoint of my novel. I have progressively escalating conflict, enormous stakes that are very realistic with emotional content that causes even my own cynical heart to actually weep for the protag. (its embarrasing) My self doubt is whether anyone else will be touched in the same way, is there any way to tell before completion? I will persist and finish remaining true to my theme but wonder if you have any insights to offer from your experienced toolbox. Thank you.