Monday, 25 June 2012

Life Blood for fiction - Conflict


When I started writing fiction I did not fully understand the concept of conflict. My writing seemed dull and lifeless! I read James N Frey's books on writing and irealised what was missing. It was a eureka moment! A lightbulb flashed on and I finally understood how important conflict was. I was putting a little trouble in my stories but not enough to make readers worry or care about my characters. But when I grasped the concept properly my stories took on a life of their own as I infused them with MUCHO  TROUBLE!
I used to worry that too much conflict was not a good thing. That everyday people never (unless they were really unfortunate!) have to cope with the amount of conflict that there necessarily is in fiction. But then I realised fiction is NOT everyday life. It is made up and for the most part everyday life, for many of us, is pretty boring. Not something a reader wants to invest many hours in – especially if you are a busy kind of person with plenty of other stuff that needs doing. It’s why life stories, I think, are so boring – unless you’re famous or have done something outstanding with your life. And that doesn’t include the day you got involved with a row at your local supermarket!
Anyway, back to conflict. One look at the soaps and how they are written is enough to confirm we are not talking real life really (sorry!) We all know that but it doesn’t stop us watching and enjoying seeing other people tussle with the agonising mess they make. It’s how they cope and overcome their problems that fascinate us. So it is with conflict in novels. You have to make trouble, fling it at them and then make it worse! Finally you throw the kitchen sink at them and almost see them go down and succumb… And then… Then we see them come to terms, rise up and overcome the conflict and obstacles we have created. Ah…. Not so boring, eh?
We have to connect with our characters and see them as real people but the conflict they face does not have to be normal conflict. In fact if we raise the stakes the conflict should escalate to unbearable heights and we are on the edge of our seats wondering how on earth they are going to win through with it all!
So that states my case for more and more conflict to give your stories the life they deserve!
Do you put lots of conflict in your stories? Do you sometimes worry that you are over the top?


  1. I use internal conflict more often. It's what I deal with and I think most women do to. Although I took gun lesson last year because of some external conflict I thought I might encounter. And I did use that in one novel.

  2. I recently realized I wasn't putting enough conflict in my stories and so I changed a bit of the next book in my series to add more conflict to my MCs and boy, has it kicked the story up a notch!

  3. I don't enjoy conflict in my real life at all. I'm not a drama queen. When I started writing, it was difficult for me to keep my characters in trouble and keep the conflict and tension high. Once I got the hang of it, though, it was fun. Maybe I'm an evil witch at heart :) Or maybe not :( I still have trouble with some stories and work them over and over to bring in more conflicting situations.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly. I have always thought fiction gives readers a way to safely experience all those living-life-on-the-razor's-edge-of-a-knife moments. I think if you don't have enough conflict your book won't move forward and the reader will get bored. Great post!

  5. A good reminder that if there is no conflict then what is it that is moving the story forward. I suppose it depends on genre of book you are writing, on how dramatic you want that conflict to be. A quiet brooding conflict can be quite thrilling if done well. It's all in the tension. A great post.

  6. Great post Pat... really good advice :-)