Learning how to create conflict in your stories is crucial. Imagine reading a story that begins where the main character has no flaws or fears, lives in a great environment, has happy well-balanced relationships, a great job and boss, has fantastic hobbies, plenty of money etc.
In other words I am asking you to think of a story that gets better and better. A character starts off happy, remains happy and gets happier. Does this sound interesting?
Then imagine reading more and more pages about this wonderful person and their wonderful life. How many more pages do you think you will turn before you put the book down? The same goes with films and television – conflict is everything.
I think a good book is one you are dying to get your friends to read so you can discuss it and one where you have to bite your tongue not to tell them what happens in the end.
None of us want to know the end of a story before we have read it because we are aware that the enjoyment of ‘finding out’ will be spoiled. What is the point of reading a book if you are not the least bit curious to know both what happens next, and how it happens?
CONFLICT – A JOURNEY THROUGH OBSTACLES
This is why, whether we consciously realise it or not, we all want something to happen to the characters in a story. By this I mean something that affects the character enough to change their path and set them off on a journey through obstacles. Simply put, this is what makes a story differ from a straightforward report or list of events. This is conflict. If we want to create a story we need to create conflict.
Some people like to see characters overcome all the obstacles and end up at the proverbial happy ending and some of us like an ambiguous ending where the reader gets to project their own thoughts and imagination on to an undefined future and are left with something to think about.
The question of story versus character is one that has provoked much debate among writers. There are those who argue strongly that it is character that matters most and that character development should take priority over story. The argument goes that it is the revelation of the layers of character underneath the initial observation of looks and personality that make the story.
LET CONFLICT REVEAL CHARACTER
I would argue that we need both to create a character.
Conflict is change and this is what forces hidden and therefore interesting characteristics to the surface. We are aware of this in our lives. There are people who surprise you by their response to conflict or crisis and those who don’t – who are the most interesting?
Are people who do exactly what you expect all the time interesting? We might like them but sometimes it takes a crisis to learn ‘the truth’ about a person. The events, obstacles, etc. in a good story inform this crisis. Crisis is crucial when you create a plot for your story.
In real life crisis is something that varies from person to person and so it is for stories. A crisis doesn’t have to be huge to be interesting – it just has to cause conflict – problems and obstacles for our characters to overcome. Without this there is no story, just description and no matter how wonderful your description is, it is not what turns pages.
Best of luck with your writing.