Tag Archives: conflict

Story is Conflict

If a story were a bus, conflict would be the driver.

Conflict steers a story, moves it forward, reverses it, stops it in its tracks, and slows or accelerates the pacing.

More importantly, conflict keeps readers glued to the page. Readers want to see how the characters will deal with conflict. Will they find solutions to their problems? Overcome their challenges? Resolve their issues?

Stories contain conflicts large and small, from an impending threat that would wipe out life on planet Earth to minor scuffles in which characters can’t agree on what to have for dinner. When well crafted and worked deftly into the plot, any kind of conflict can be interesting. 

Conflict is Difficult

Conflict makes life difficult for the characters, providing obstacles for them to overcome and challenges they must face head-on. It’s obvious that conflict is at the heart of any plot: the hero must overcome the antagonist or the central story problem. But the core conflict often looms over the many smaller conflicts that are peppered throughout a story, obscuring them.

Let’s look at Star Wars: A New Hope as an example (spoiler warning!). The story is set amidst an epic conflict between a rebellion and an authoritarian regime. The story’s hero, Luke Skywalker, finds himself caught up in this conflict as he sets forth on a journey to become a Jedi knight. Conflict abounds in the story: Luke’s uncle won’t let him go to the pilot academy; the new droid runs away and Luke must find it; the sand people attack Luke; his farm is raided by Stormtroopers who kill his aunt and uncle; Luke gets assaulted by strangers in the cantina; he embarks on a friction-riddled relationship with the smuggler Han Solo. And those are just a few examples of conflict from the first act. Conflicts large and small thwart Luke and his companions along every step of their journey all the way through to the end of their story.

Some conflicts are more challenging than others, but this constant onslaught of conflict makes the characters’ path through the story’s events challenging — and interesting. Some conflicts result in failure; others lead to success. Ultimately, the payoff is worth it: Luke begins learning the ways of the Force, rescues the princess, and joins the rebellion to help them destroy the Death Star. Victory is sweet.

Conflict is Everywhere

The conflicts in Star Wars range from interpersonal (friction between Luke and Han Solo) to physical (the scuffle with patrons in the cantina) to internal (Luke faces an internal struggle in which he must choose between joining the rebellion or remaining on his uncle’s farm) and environmental (Luke and his companions get trapped in trash compactor on the Death Star).

When looking for more conflict to bring into our stories, we need look no further than the plot, characters, and setting that we have established.

  • The plot, or events in the story, provide conflict by creating challenging situations for the characters.
  • Characters are perhaps one of the richest sources of conflict. From love triangles to minor arguments to major blowouts, relationships are fraught with friction.
  • The story world, or setting, often provides ample conflict — from major events, such as natural disasters, to minor inconveniences, like a leaky roof, a story’s setting can present plenty of conflict for the characters.

Conflict is Story

Every conflict heightens readers’ engagement, because in large part, we read to see how the characters will resolve the many conflicts that arise throughout a story — the big ones and the little ones.

That doesn’t mean you should stuff your story with conflict just for the sake of doing so. Each conflict should move the story toward its ultimate conclusion. You might find dozens of opportunities within a story where two characters might disagree with each other, and these conflicts could be interesting. But how do they contribute to the characterization, the plot, and the themes — or do they? Conflict is good for story, but it needs to have purpose or meaning. It needs to support the story.

How do you approach conflict in your stories? Do you focus on the central conflict and let other conflicts arise naturally? Do you find yourself going off on tangents based on minor conflicts? Share your experiences with story conflict by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

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8 Promises You’re Making to Readers—and Then Breaking

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Reblogged from – Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors

8 Promises You’re Making to Readers—and Then Breaking

By K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

A book is a contract between reader and writer. The reader is promising to pay attention to the story and emotionally invest in the adventure. In return, the writer is promising to fulfill certain expectations about the fictional experience.

When we fail to fulfill this contract with our readers, we are, in essence, breaking our promises to them. These promises range from the big one at the top of the list (“I promise this will be a good read”) to a number of smaller ones along the way. Let’s take a look at eight common promises you may be making to your readers—and then breaking.



1. I promise every instance of conflict will end with an appropriate climax.

Conflict must always lead to a specific outcome. It can’t fizzle away into nothing. Characters can’t just say, “Whoops, guess we misunderstood each other,” shake hands, and walk away. Whenever you introduce a conflict, you also have to make sure you pay it off with some sort of confrontation, disaster, or triumph.



2. I promise my characters will always behave within the parameters of their established personalities.

We never want our characters acting out of character. This doesn’t mean characters can’t act in surprising or even shocking ways. But not only do their actions have to resonate within the personality we’ve established for them, their actions also have to result from appropriate and understandable motives.



3. I promise I will always pay off significant foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is present in our stories for two reasons: 1) to prepare readers for big events down the road and 2) to ratchet up the tension. If you use foreshadowing to raise your tension, only to have readers discover there was never really anything for them to be tense about, they’ll either feel you’ve cheated them—or you were too dumb to notice what you did.



4. I promise that characters who are important in the beginning of the story will not be forgotten about by the end.

Only Charles Dickens could get away with opening The Old Curiosity Shop with a first-person narrator who, without explanation, disappears from the story after a few chapters. If a character is introduced as important early on in your story, he either needs to play an important role throughout or, at the very least, his disappearance from the story later on needs to be appropriately explained.



5. I promise every cause will end in an appropriate effect—and vice versa.

Every action needs to be followed by an appropriate reaction. And every reaction needs to make sense in relation to some preceding action that caused it. One character can’t suddenly want to kill another without an appropriate reason, just as another character can’t realistically act with passivity toward the murder of his family.



6. I promise my protagonist(s) will play an appropriately active role in the climax.

At its heart, deus ex machina, the technique of resolving a conflict through some powerful outside means (such as the cavalry rushing in to save the wagon train), is a broken promise to readers. Your audience has followed your protagonist all the way to the end of your story. They want to see him take action to defeat the antagonist via means that have been foreshadowed through the story.



7. I promise not every scene will play out exactly as readers expect.

Readers like the element of surprise. Within the confines of certain expectations, they want you to shock their socks off. They open your book expecting you to take them to surprising places. When you fail to do that, they will grow bored with the stereotypes.



8. I promise to abide by genre conventions—within reason.

Ingenuity with genre is the lifeblood of innovative fiction. But you also have to realize that your genre itself will be promising readers certain things. If you fail to live up to those expectations, readers will be disappointed. In a romance, your leading couple better fall in love. In an action story, there better be explosions. In a historical, there better be history.
Always be aware of what you’re promising readers. If you’re falling short of any of these promises, then double your efforts to not just fulfill them, but to go above and beyond reader expectations.