Conflict in fiction
Conflict in fiction is one way of saying it. It might be more accurate to say that conflict in a story
is is the story.
Without conflict in a story there is no story, rather there is just a series of uninteresting events.
As I said in How Many Plots Are There Anyway?, there’s only
one plot: the main character wants something, and can’t have it.
It’s the disparity between wanting it and not being able to have it that contains the conflict in a story.
(This doesn’t necessarily mean violence. It can be, of course, but it isn’t always, or even usually.)
It simply means that there are opposing wants.
The villain wants to destroy the world; James Bond wants to stop him. Captain Ahab wants to catch the whale; the
whale, understandably, doesn’t want to be caught.
Conflict in fiction can make for dramatic dialogue. A scene where two
people are arguing, each trying to get their own way, can be gripping to read.
The opposing wants don’t have to be between two people. They can, in a way, be between your character and
nature. The avalanche ‘wants’ to fall, the character wants to escape.
Another way in which opposing wants can appear is within the same character. As a passionate student of personal
development, who has worked as an EFT practitioner with hundreds of clients, as well as extensive work on myself, I
have learned one essential thing: Each of us is a mass of contradictory desires.
We want to give up smoking, but at the same time, we don’t want to. We want to lose weight, but it’s too much
We want to write a novel, but we’re scared (this is where EFT is
And of course, this internal conflict applies to our characters too. In every story there’s change, and change
is threatening. There’s danger in the change. Perhaps it’s literal danger, as experienced by James Bond. Or perhaps
it’s psychological danger - the character has to grow and evolve (i.e. the character
arc) in order to achieve her goals.
This internal debate is very subtle, and it offers the possibility of depth and richness in your story.
Maybe have your character resist doing what needs to be done. Perhaps have her scared, or have her refuse to do
it at first (the refusal of the call as explained in the Hero's
Journey. Have her debate the rightness of the next step either internally, (i.e. in her thoughts) or
externally, with another character. Which option you choose will depend to some extent on the Point of View you're using.
Just be careful not to have her doing too much thought and angst. While your character is debating, there’s no
action. That’s fine for a while; it’s even necessary as is explained further in the section on pacing. But too much will stall the story. How much is too much? Again, that’s part of the
art of writing, to find that balance. But make sure to include it - it's the spice in the story!
If you're serious about getting your plotting right, then you absolutely need Holly Lisle's
A Plot Clinic. 200 pages of specific, easy-to-follow tools and techniques on
coming up with intriguing and interesting plots - all for $9.95. I also absolutely recommend her
Character Clinic, also only $9.95.
Or buy them both, along with Create A Language Clinic and Create A
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