What’s the Central Conflict of your Novel? Keep it Center Stage.

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

“Conflict in Every Scene”

We’ve all heard this advice, and for good reason. Your protagonist has a goal—hopefully, an audacious and high-stakes goal that is difficult to achieve. “Difficult” is important. It’s one of the qualities of a highly engaging story because the harder the goal is to reach, the less certainty readers have that the protagonist will be ok. They’ll find themselves wondering: Will the hero win in the end? Can they overcome the odds? Will they be able to make the necessary internal growth for them to succeed?

To maintain this level of reader empathy and engagement, the conflict has to come hard and fast. There needs to be hardship in every single scene. Some of that strife will relate directly back to the story goal. This will be in the form of obstacles, adversaries, setbacks, and disappointments that push the character farther from their objective.

But not every conflict has to do with the overall goal. Some of it relates to an important subplot that’s impacting a key story player. And then you have inner conflict. This conflict exists solely within the character as they struggle with various aspects of personal evolution and internal growth.

As you’re drafting — as the story progresses and the protagonist’s difficulties compound — there’s always a risk of the central conflict getting muted or lost in the noise.

Too much conflict, or certain problems getting a disproportionate chunk of airtime, can lead to pacing issues and confused readers who aren’t sure what the character is working toward. Keeping the core plot and central conflict should be your main focus. That’s the best way to ensure that everything you add to the story is leading to that eventual climax.

How do we do that exactly?


The first step is to identify the main conflict for your story. A good place to start is with the six common literary forms of conflict:

  • Character vs. Character: In this scenario, the protagonist goes head-to-head with another character in a battle of wills. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Die Hard, The Princess Bride)
  • Character vs. Society: These stories feature a character who faces seemingly insurmountable challenges when taking on society or a powerful agency within their world. (The Hunger Games, Schindler’s List, Erin Brockovich)
  • Character vs. Nature: In this case, the character goes up against nature. (The Perfect Storm, Wild, The Revenant)
  • Character vs. Technology: This conflict will pit a character against technology or a machine. (The Terminator, The Matrix, WarGames)
  • Character vs. Supernatural: This form of conflict involves a character facing opposition that exists (at least partially) outside their understanding. ( Sleep, Ghost Rider, Percy Jackson and the Olympians)
  • Character vs. Self: Of all the conflict forms, this is the most personal (and often the most compelling) because the friction arises from within the character’s belief system or personal identity. (The Bourne Identity, DexterA Beautiful Mind)

Which of the six central conflicts is your story built around? Identifying it will help you keep it front-of-mind and in the spotlight. This knowledge can also help you choose the right conflict scenarios—the problems and friction-inducing situations that will test your character’s commitment, reveal characterization, and force them to reflect on how to become stronger so they can achieve their goal.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

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