In real life, conflict is something you probably want to avoid, but in fiction writing, the more conflict the better. New writers often hear, “conflict is story.” But why is it so important? And how can you achieve conflict that feels decisive rather than angsty?
Most people don’t read a whole story if they already know how it is going to end. It’s like when you go to a baseball game and the score is so uneven by the seventh inning that half the crowd, having had their fill of nachos and soda, decides to leave. But have you ever noticed that that never happens in little league? The parents are so emotionally invested in the players that no matter if their kid fell down during his last three at bats, they are going to stay. Who knows? This bat, he might hit a home run. You can do the same thing by getting the reader emotionally invested in your characters. Help them to connect with your hero by making him feel like a real person, emotional scars and all. Then when you put that character up against impossible odds, or give him a moral choice with no easy answers, the reader vicariously faces that situation too. And who knows? He might think of a genius way out of it. This is why we love a good underdog story.
To focus the conflict, give the character a goal, then let plot events and other characters stand in her way. The character can even stumble over her own internal flaws. Have her be able to say, “I could get what I want, if only I wasn’t so proud/stubborn/scared/lazy/broken.” Then, instead of saying it, use plot events to show the reader how this is true. The trick is to have the goal matter. If the character were to fail and there would be no significant consequences, then the conflict becomes watery, and the reader ceases to care whether or not she succeeds. That doesn't mean you have to put the character’s life on the line every time, or that your character has to save the entire world. As long as the stakes truly matter to your character, they could be something as small as earning bragging rights, salvaging a friendship or maintaining the moral high ground.
Everything in your story – including character, plot, setting and dialogue – gets tied together with conflict. Learn how to keep these elements moving together to create a cohesive whole in Creative Writing: Beginner’s Fiction, a five-session class that focuses on structuring scenes for emotional impact. Class starts on March 16, so sign up soon by calling (817) 272-2581 or register here.