One of the easiest things to do is write a story, but 90% of stories need conflict. The other 10% also need conflict, but they themselves result from conflict, and simply carry the resulting tension through the story. There is a strong need for conflict, but for a lot of people that doesn’t come easily. It is the most intriguing part of a story because it impacts characters greatly, and yet there are some people who can construct everything but conflict. I’m sad to say that I believe I am one of those writers. A lot of times I ask myself if that makes me a bad writer, and truthfully I don’t think it does. However it does mean I have a very significant hurdle to becoming a better writer. I supposed my interests have always been more on everything around the conflict than the conflict itself. There is one other component though. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like tension, conflict, or disharmony. I grew up in a house where my parents were often at each other’s throats both overtly and silently. Don’t think there weren’t good times. There were, but with those factors my natural avoidance of conflict.
You can imagine how moving into the romance genre goes if I can’t do conflict. There are so many times when I sit down and work out these convoluted conflicts and plots and I throw them away. Quite frankly plenty of fun stories in our heads are worth more than a penny. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized having a nonsense conflict is often worse than having little or no conflict. But this has been something I’m been working on and as a result I’ve begun using a few of the practices below, which I reccomend to you.
- For thirty minutes I work on a piece starting from the middle, it could be an old story or a new one. This scene may have nothing to do with the actual book, and I set up a conflict between the characters. How? I give them each something they want that clashes. It could be Lita wants to go to the movies and Jon wants to stay home, but I deepen these to deeper clashes. His social anxieties versus her need for excitement. The conflict is who they are as represented by two opposing desires. Or it could be as simple as Hannah doesn’t like Lou and doesn’t want Pete to like him either. It isn’t about some grand plot, but about what Hannah will do to keep them apart. The goal is to write towards a moment of pure conflict. Assume the situation is underway and you have to work up to a point of direct conflict between the characters
- I will take two books or movies and or games, then pull a plot from one and a conflict from another and then write with new characters. Similar to above it forces me to think about characters in conflict, but this allows me to work on presenting the conflict without having to worry about constructing it. You take a new character and put them in the Matrix as Neo and another Mr. Smith.
- Alternative to the above you take two well known arch enemies and put them in wholly different story of conflict. Neo is a greaser, Mr. Smith a principle, and you ask yourself what conflicts do they have as characters regardless of setting and what would be the equivalent of the battle on the roof and slow motion.
Truthfully, what you have to do to engage with conflict and to improve is to not simply read more, but actively put your characters at odds. We see conflict everywhere in the real world both physically and internally. The key to unpacking conflict begins with one character’s wants conflicting with their actions or their wants conflicting with the actions available to them. They want to move left but are forced to go right. They want to move right but someone is blocking the way off for them. You have to dig into the difference between what one person wants and another in order to better craft intriguing stories.
For those of us who squirm at the thought of conflict, but want to write compelling stories we must forced ourselves out of the box. We’re already in a conflict between that desire and our ability to act, our job now as the protagonists of our own story is to work through that aversion to conflict so we can get what we want.