Fueling the Fire: Conflict

Thursday, April 10, 2008
by Valerie Fentress

What makes you read fiction? Is it the pretty cover, the back cover copy, or the characters and plot? Most would answer the plot, and what makes up a good plot; conflict.

All great novels contain strong conflict. It’s the internal and external conflicts the characters are facing that drive us through to the last page. But how do writers keep the conflict strong and realistic through the course of a novel?

Conflict first starts with knowing your characters. Even if you don’t outline your novels before you write, you at least need to know who’s going to take you on this 300 page journey. It’s important to know their history, even if you never tell the reader. Know their fears, hopes, and insecurities. Being able to know what drives your characters is how you will know what events will lead to the greatest conflict and change in your characters

The second key to creating conflict is dialogue. My husband and I get into more arguments over how we speak or interpret what we say to one another than anything else in our marriage. This is because individuals bring their own experiences and expectations to any conversation, and if people don’t understand each other that can cause endless pages of conflict.

In Donald Maass’ book Writing the Breakout Novel, he spends a lot of time discussing conflict, because it is the driving force behind plot. In one of the exercises Maass asks you to take your character and define what that character wants most. Then he asks what would happen if your character didn’t obtain his goal? Then taking it further, ask what would make this worse, and what would make this loss of goal matter more than life. These are great questions to ask when trying to develop conflict. Maass also assigns a test to the flow of conflict in your novel. The test being once you’ve printed out your completed novel throw all the pages in the air and let them scatter to the ground. Then sit down and pick up page by page and see if that page has conflict. If not consider cutting that scene. Cause if conflict isn’t driving your plot forward than your novel will fall flat and not engage the reader.

One thing to be weary of when developing conflict in your novels is to keep things realistic, even in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. No reader enjoys cliché conflicts, or the situations that always lead to the worst that can happen. You have gauge your WIP so that your conflict makes sense with what your trying to accomplish and not just constantly creating the worst case scenario.

Remember conflict is what is going to drive the reader from page one to the end, so keep it real.

Happy Writing!


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