Does Your Story Need More Conflict? Tap this Powerful Source

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From Writers Helping Writers:

Conflict is such a versatile storytelling element. Not only will obstacles, adversaries, and stressors keep tension high and readers focused, they also provide characters with valuable opportunities to prove themselves, chances to reexamine what they believe and want, and even failures that teach lessons and beget growth.

Every scene needs good, solid conflict. It might be something big and life-altering, or a smaller block, complication, or disruption the character must now navigate. No matter what form it takes, conflict should further the story and offer readers insight into the characters involved.

Conflict is a kaleidoscope, offering a million possibilities for fresh storytelling. But sometimes, too much choice is paralyzing, and we struggled to choose what happens next. Or we’re writing on a day when the ol’ imagination tank is empty. In these cases, knowing where to look for conflict can guide us to scenarios that help raise the stakes and mess up the protagonist’s plans.

The #1 Place to Find Conflict

Where does most of our conflict come from in real life? That’s right: other people. Loved ones, extended family, roommates, co-workers, neighbors, friends, complete strangers—if they’re someone who will interact with your character, they’re a potential source for trouble. This is why planning your story’s cast ahead of time can be so beneficial.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Chances are, your character is connected to a variety of people in the story. When you need conflict, poke at their relationships to see what problems shake loose.

MARRIAGE AND PARTNERSHIP: All romantic relationships have bumps – good ones, and bad ones. I’ve been married twenty-seven years and there are days…well, you know. Life can be full of unknowns, including whom each person will become, how beliefs, goals, and needs may change, and if the partners will grow mostly in the same direction or not. People can also cope very differently when it comes to life’s challenges, and this can lead to resentment, frustration, friction, and fallout.

FAMILY: The people closest to your character may know things others do not…including the bad stuff. Past mistakes, shortcomings, and failures may be part of a relative’s mental Rolodex. Will they reference a “favor owed” when they want something, lay a guilt-trip, or spill a secret to others when they’ve had too much to drink? Strings tend to be attached in family relationships, so responsibilities, duties, expectations, and demands might also be a source of friction. And let’s not forget family dysfunction! Disagreements, arguments, sibling rivalries, or a family feud might help you hit your character’s soft spots.

HISTORY: Think about what kinds of people might have crossed swords with your character at some point in the past. Did your character wrong someone, or did betrayal end a friendship? What will happen if a ghost from the past shows up at a time when your character needs to really focus on the present?

Or maybe your character did something they aren’t proud of. If the partner from a one-night affair appears at the family barbecue as a cousin’s +1, will the past stay buried?

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