Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Problem With Conflict

Conflict is one of the most important ingredients in the recipe of writing a novel regardless of what genre you are writing in. It's what keeps people on the edge of their seat, how you encourage them to keep turning the pages, how you get readers and keep readers long term.

Here are some of the things you should protect your story from if you want it to have good conflict:

1. There's no conflict

When you fall in love with your characters, it can be difficult at times to write about them in a way that portrays them in a bad light or hurts them in some way. We become so attached to them that they're almost like friends and who wants horrible things to happen to their friends?

But the truly good stories are the ones in which the characters struggle for something. It's through trials and pain that the good aspects of every human being, their strengths, shine through. We get to know a character through how they suffer and we grow to admire them or hate them for it.

There is no story without a struggle.

2. The conflict doesn't build

When you write the first pages of a story, there should already be a conflict. That conflict will be resolved a little, but will lead to even more of a conflict afterwards. This builds and builds until you reach the climax of the novel and then resolve the whole thing in the end.

Sometimes, this can be difficult. You might only have one conflict for the story and resolve it too quickly and don't know where to go from there. In this case, you need to brainstorm further and come up with reasons why this conflict is more complicated than it seems. Like, maybe a teenage girl (the main character in a novel) doesn't get along with her mother. She could talk to her and resolve it easily, so how to complicate things? Give the mother a secret, make it so there's something the mother refuses to talk to her daughter about that further complicates their relationship when the daughter approaches her. Conflict in your story shouldn't be simple, it should get bigger and bigger as the characters try to resolve it. They make progress, but the progress gives them a bigger problem than they had before. Things can only get harder until they get good.

Another problem you might have in this area is dragging the conflict on and on, torturing the reader with one conflict, never resolving it and never expanding on it. The characters remain stagnant, never changing, never growing, never making progress, which will frustrate the reader. That's why you need to have a conflict, have them resolve it a bit and then increase the conflict. For instance, in a romance novel, if the characters aren't getting closer and closer to having a relationship in the novel, while at the same time, the stakes are being raised that wants to keep them apart, people will get frustrated because no progress is being made in their relationship. They aren't trying to get together or trying to improve. There's nothing to root for or be excited by. It's just torture and no relief as they make no progress. It's why I hate the "Will They/Won't They" Trope in 90's sitcoms.

Another issue you might have in this area, is giving them a bunch of different problems that are small. There is no climax to the story and the events don't fully go together. They aren't cohesive. They don't build on each other. These have the potential to destroy a story by confusing the reader and making everything seem pointless. There needs to be an overarching theme of why everything is happening to the characters. It's one big story, not a series of little stories.

3. The conflict doesn't have a satisfying resolution

Writing the endings to novels is one of the most difficult things to do. You can sometimes build up your conflict to such a large degree that it's difficult to come up with a resolution.

The truth is that most people prefer stories that end in happily ever after. Your story doesn't necessarily have to end with a happily ever after, but it should end with some resolution that leaves your readers satisfied. Something has to have been solved or fixed. Maybe your characters are all dead or devastated, but the main premise of the story, the main conflict has been resolved or healed.

The worst thing is to read a whole exciting story with a bunch of exciting events only to find no closure in the end. No definitive conclusion to the events that occurred. Nothing solved or explained when there needed to be a solution and explanation. It makes the reader feel like they read a whole novel for nothing.

If you'd like to read more articles on writing like this, please go to my site: The New Writer's Guide To Writing, Publishing, And More.


T.J. said...

Convincing the audience her death was necessary. EVERYONE comes back with...but can't she live? Surely...

No. I've thrown every possibility at her, thought of other possible resolutions, hinted that only her death will stop the conflict.

SC Author said...

Satisfying conclusions are so important. I love 'sad' Tale of Two Cities type conclusions, mainly because it is so bittersweet and also so resolved at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I think along with increasing conflicts, we need to make them build in different directions. Not just all physical or emotional, but some of each-- maybe some financial, societal, interpersonal, etc. It's a great way of keeping the conflict fresh and interesting, while also raising the stakes.

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