Conflict, conflict, conflict! It’s what your story needs and your readers crave. Conflict is what makes stories whir and plots fizzle and pop. If your characters aren’t in conflict with one another in some way, then why are you writing about them? If your characters are happily in love, happily employed, or happily content with their lives, maybe you need to move on to new characters. Now, your characters don’t need to be complete emotional trainwrecks, but some misfortune must enter their lives at some point.
In a blog post about conflict, author Kara Lennox says, “A good conflict has external and internal aspects…the conflict manifests on a superficial level at first, then at a deeper level as the hero and heroine become more involved, reveal more parts of themselves, more bits of their history, their secrets.”
This is great advice because it basically describes the plot of any good book or movie you’ve ever read or seen, especially romance stories. In Pride & Prejudice, for example, the overarching external conflict is that of Mrs. Bennett’s quest to marry her daughters off in prosperous and promising fashion. Lizzie is caught up in this when she meets Mr. Darcy, who could be a good match for her. But the internal aspects of both characters creates a conflict that results in Lizze’s sister Jane nearly missing her own chance at being married off, Lizzie’s sister becoming embroiled with the unsavory character of Mr. Wickham, and an eventual declaration of love. All of that happened, essentially, because of the warring personalities of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy. Pretty good, eh?
Because of these internal and external aspects, conflict is intertwined with both character and plot. The conflict between characters can lead to a conflict that occurs within the plot. So it’s a good idea to remember your character development as you create your plot.
In this same post, Kara reminds readers to avoid adding in too much conflict. Just as too little conflict can leave readers bored, too much can leave them feeling overwhelmed and unwilling to put up with your story anymore. If you create just one conflict that runs deep in your characters, you can find different plotlines within that one conflict to explore.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan