Write Better, Right Now #25

Conflict in Fiction

Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post helping writers understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level. For writers looking for free creative writing workshops, check out Workshops for Writers!

Write Better, Right Now’s topics for August:

  • Conflict in Fiction
  • Types of Conflict
  • External Conflict
  • Internal Conflict

This month we’ll go over conflict and how to use it in our stories. Conflict in a story can be easily identified as anything that goes against what the main or POV character wants. For example, stepping on a tack on the way to the fridge for a glass of water is conflict. A potential lover saying no to a date is conflict. While those are all negative examples, conflict can be positive, too.

Conflict can be a mother breaking through the walls of her teenager to offer them help and support. Conflict can also be accepting a job offer you weren’t expecting when you really need it. So while conflict goes against what characters want, it doesn’t necessarily have to go against what they need.

When we encounter conflict in stories, it’s often used as a jumping-off point or a way to add tension to a scene. But writers also use it to add anticipation, introduce problems, and expose aspects of the world or character. Like tension, conflict may not serve a purpose in the type of story you are telling, but it is a viable tool for any writer who wants to add a bit of surprise or intrigue to their story.

Let’s dive into it more below!


Techniques

Conflict can be both good and bad, negative and positive, or any degree you want. I like to think about conflict in three ways: the build-up, the moment of impact, and the fallout. The build-up is the anticipation, foreshadowing, flirting, subtext, whathaveyou that shows the reader conflict is coming. The moment of impact is the main conflict itself taking place on the page. It’s the argument, fight, kiss, whatever the anticipation was building to—extra points if it’s unexpected but still logically within the framework of your story. And the fallout is what happens after; the conclusion of the impact, like the moment of impact is the conclusion of the build-up.

Let’s use a story about a married couple having problems in their relationship as an example. The build-up for this type of story could be all their small passive-aggressive actions, cheating, fighting, and some staying out late just to avoid going home. While the characters may be addressing the issue, the story and characters still have something bubbling under the surface the readers can pick up on through their actions and dialogue.

In a relationship story like this one, your moment of impact could be an unexpected pregnancy, a partner coming home to their spouse gone, divorce letters served at a place of work, a quitting of a demanding job to pledge full commitment to fixing the relationship, a surprise trip that rekindles their love. There are a lot of ways you can punch your characters and readers in the guts or wrap a warm blanket around their hearts.

But the story’s not over yet. (I mean, it can be, but the conflict is still unresolved like in the movie The Graduate.)

What happens after this moment of impact? Is everything fixed instantly? This is where you can use the fallout to show your readers what becomes of your characters’ conflict and lives. With a story like this, you could have the fallout be that they mend their relationship, decide things are truly done for good, or change the dynamics of their relationship.

To figure out what paths of conflict to take, try to think about the journey you want your reader to go on. Because ultimately, it’s your readers who go through the story with your characters, and they should feel or at least care about how the events unfold and where things land with the story and characters.

What I love about conflict is it can be big or small, like tension. The example above could play out over the course of a novel, short story, or even as a subplot in another story. And while there can be three parts to conflict, it doesn’t have to be. Like the example above of The Graduate, a story without a fallout. Or it can just be the moment of impact and something small like your character getting into a car accident that wasn’t foreshadowed.

Can you think of any other ways conflict can happen in a story?


Exercise

Watch a children’s TV show, movie, or read a children’s book and identify all the conflicts taking place.

Do this to figure out how to use conflict in ways that aren’t all death, dying, and doom.


Resources

  1. 6 Story Conflicts Possible in Your Book
  2. How to Write Compelling Conflict
  3. How to Write Conflict
  4. How to Create Conflict in a Story
  5. 60 Ways to Create Conflict

To check out past topics covered in the Write Better, Right Now series, check here!


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Catch you next month for our Write Better, Right Now post on types of conflict.

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