Writing Advice: Your Conflict


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

Writing Advice: Conflict!


Characters, as I’m sure you know, need to have different dimensions to their personalities. This is what is meant when professors or authors say that characters should be round rather than flat. One of the things that makes characters more rounded and interesting is to give them conflict. Yes, inner conflict is a great tool to use when you’re writing. Everyone (well, almost everyone) enjoys a character who is plagued by inner turmoil of some kind. But sometimes that can become old as a writing trope. If you write about a character who spends a lot of his time moaning about an old battle he took place in, or a girlfriend who left him long ago, then readers may get bored.

To break the boredom of your reader, it can help to introduce an external conflict for your character to contend with. While they’re moaning about their long lost girlfriend, you could add in something like a shark attack for him to escape from. Or perhaps someone is just giving him a hard time at the grocery store checkout line, which exacerbates his already unpleasant mood.

As always, I’ve turned to Mr. Chuck Wendig and his blog, Terrible Minds, for some advice on this matter. In his post, 25 Things a Great Character Needs, Chuck talks about this very concept. He says, “external conflict is pretty cool, too. If the character is plagued by an old war wound, a damaged spaceship, a mysterious old villain who shows up to perform surgical karate on the character, all good. Doubly good if the external conflict matches or speaks to the internal conflict in some way. Say, for instance, an author who is addicted to slathering his beard with illicit ermine scent glands is also pursued by a very angry ermine scent gland dealer named Vito who would apparently like his money. Just an example.”

I especially like what Chuck says here about matching your character’s internal conflict to their external conflict. If they have something that’s plaguing them internally, adding an outside element that somehow connects to that will only emphasize it more for your readers. Whatever you choose — internal or external — just remember that conflict is the core of any story, and it will help develop your characters and move along your plot. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Advice: Characters Should Care


What is at the heart of a good story? Most people would say that conflict is what creates that spark of an interesting and engaging read. But characters, I would wager, are just as important. Characters are, after all, the biggest connection that you have with potential readers. You can think of your characters as ambassadors between your book and those picking it up. If your characters are compelling people who inspire either empathy or disdain, then your story is likely to hold a reader’s attention. Conflict, though, is also important. To combine these two essential elements of writing, your characters need to be involved in a conflict to push their story forward. But that’s not enough either. Your characters must also care about the conflict in which they are engaged.

A recent post over at Chuck Wendig’s blog lists 25 Things to Know About Your Story’s Stakes. What are the stakes? That’s what your character stands to win or lose at the end of the story. If they succeed, what will they get in return? If they fail, what do they surrender forever? These are important questions that need to be considered if your story’s central conflict is to be both interesting and believable.  The third item on Chuck’s list deals with making your characters care.


The characters are the engine that drives any story, and if the stakes don’t mean shit to the characters, the story becomes artificial — a cardboard story blown over in the most inconsequential of breezes. Why do they care? If they don’t give a damn, why will we?

That final line says it all: if your characters don’t care about what is happening to them, chances are your readers won’t care either. The players in your story need to be engaged with their surroundings and with what is happening to them. Therefore, the stakes had better be big. If your character has a child, put that child in danger. If there is a prized possession of some kind that the character loves, tie it to the tracks of a train and stand back to see what they do about it. Whatever it is, make your character sit up and take notice, and that will push forward an interesting plot that readers will flock to.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan