Friday, August 12, 2011

Conflict - The most frequently screwed up story element

I was tossing and turning about how I wanted to approach this issue all day yesterday. At one point, I was going to talk about the relationship with the goals and motivation of the character, but I decided to simply focus on the conflict in the story. In reality, this was the biggest issue for many stories to get the big R from an editor or agent.

In reality, writers really mess up the conflict in the story. What we see are several scenarios:

1) The conflict is too easy to solve - This is a big one. If the story can be summed up in a single conversation, or one of the characters just has to make a simple decision, then the story has no legs. There is nothing that is driving the story. This is really that "sit-com" approach. You know what I am talking about. Someone overhears a conversation and thinks there is something bigger going on. In other words, had someone heard the whole thing, there would be nothing. This is part of the reason why these approaches only last for a 15-20 minute episode.

2) The conflict is impossible - In an effort to make the story really big, the author creates a conflict that simply cannot be fixed without an act of God or amazing coincidence. When readers see something like this, we simply tune out. We know the characters will never make it, and yet, we know that when the author decides to get them out of a jam, the resolution will be unsatisfying. Honestly, the only place I believe the impossible conflict works is with the James Bond series.

3) The conflict would never happen - This one is the last of the three issues. The conflict you created in your story is one the characters would have never gotten into in the first place. The girl from Beverley Hills dating someone that isn't in her "world" and then goes camping in the back country of the Nile River. Ummm, probably not.

The point is simple. Find something that really creates some believable tension between the characters. Find something that a tough decision will have to be made, but one that the characters would do and have the capablity to do. You will find the story flows much better.



  1. Good advice. Conflict is essential. When I read, I like to see multiple conflicts, varying in size and scope in every story - not too many, but enough to keep it from being too narrowly focused and linear.

  2. A timely subject...I'm currently revising my manuscript because my conflict was too easily resolved and, frankly, was a little weak. But it's fixable, and I did recognize the problem before I started the query process.

  3. I'm a big fan of unresolved conflict.