Writing Powerful Scenes, Part 4: Conflict

From My Story Doctor:

When writing strong scenes, conflict is key. If there is no conflict, the “scene” probably doesn’t contribute much to the story.

Every story needs conflicts to drive it. You can write pieces that aren’t stories and that therefore have no conflict. We typically call these “slice of life” pieces or vignettes. They might simply be powerful bits of description that bring a setting or character to life, but they aren’t a part of a larger story.

At the heart of each story, you need a powerful conflict. This needn’t be a life-or-death conflict. It needn’t put an entire world in jeopardy. It only needs to move us powerfully, and that can happen for a couple of reasons. For example, conflict may move me powerfully because I relate to it so well. I’m often charmed when I see a shy boy struggling to let a girl know that she has become the object of his affection. I was terribly shy when I was a teen, so I get it.

On the other hand, the movie An Education is a beautifully crafted story about a promiscuous young woman who is in the act of “throwing her life away.” While I recognize that many people relate to that, the truth is that for most of my life, that was never a problem for me. I set goals and didn’t let things—like my attraction for a woman—get in the way.

There are of course conflicts that I can’t relate to at all, and if you start discovering early in a movie or a book that you just can’t “get into the story,” very often the problem lies in that the conflict doesn’t engage you.

As a writer, you can get around that problem by creating more sympathy for your character. You might create a protagonist who we care deeply about. Sometimes it helps just to create a likable personality, but that’s not always the case. Even a flawed character can gain sympathy if you pile on multiple conflicts for that character.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor