Monday, November 16, 2009

Understanding Complications vs Conflict

Conflict is the element that drives the story. It is that battle we want to see the characters over-come in the story to get us to that happily ever after. For many authors, however, stories completely lack a conflict an are only fillied with complications. The end result, unfortunately, is the story ends up having no point.

Let me explain it this way. Once I see the hero and the heroine and I hear their problems, I want to see how perfect they are but really question how on earth they can and will ever get together. I don't want to see that easy solution at the end of the first 10-20 pages. For example: he wants to get married after returning home from military duties over-seas. She wants to get married now that she has gotten her graduate work done and her business is established. Now they find out they are neighbors with the same interests. Ta Da! No conflict.

But here is what the inexperienced writers would do. The would then fill their story with mindless complications that do nothing more than stretch the length of the story. They give him PTSD. They have her business suddenly going bankrupt. They bring in some random pscyho killer. He had to deal with an ex-wife that is her best friend. They have the military call him back for "special services". The list goes on and on.

The problem with complications is that these pesky little things are the common everyday occurances in eacy of our lives. We don't have conflict in our life. We have complications. The care breaks down, or your run out of milk. For your stories, the only thing you did was make the complication worse by adding melodramatics. Instead of the milk running out, you have it containing some hidden disease that no one knows about that when chilled slowly releases a chemical in the air that turns people in the kitchen into were-puppies.

The key with conflict is to understand from the beginning what would be keeping the hero and heroine together. This is where internal and external conflict comes into play. To make the story successful, we don't want to simply see the problem being an outside force. There needs to be something inside the characters also holding them back. Those two elements should be intertwined to really add the development. For example. The lawyer is arguing for the death penalty for the heroine's brother (not that this would happen since it would be a conflict of interest but you get the idea). It is clear the brother deserves it. the evidence points in that direction but now he has to make a huge decision between the girl and his job. She wants him to drop the charges which he cannot do. He could leave the job, but that would mean he loses his career. If he prosecutes, he loses her. That is conflict.

Remember I said to start from the beginning? Did you do that with your last WIP? Did you establish a true conflict or was it a complication?



  1. Great post. Your examples help illustrate this concept well. Thanks.

  2. Ditto what lynnrush said, thanks.

  3. Great, informative post, Scott. I've never thought about complications vs. conflict before. I hope I haven't done it in the past, but now I know to be aware of it when I write!