Conflict is Required

Reality Check

Why is conflict necessary? Without conflict, there’s no story; without story, our efforts are merely lovely words strung together to form lovely sentences.

Conflict creates action and result. Action and result create change. In some cases, a character might resolve not to change his convictions. Is this a positive thing for a story? It depends.

Give Larry Larva in the above cartoon a reason to want to change and he may give it a try. Depends on the stakes. Depends on what has happened to create enough conflict in his life to stir things up enough to make him notice. Will he care if his wife threatens to leave him? If not, what if she will be bringing his TV with her when she goes …?

How about another scenario:

Will Judge McStoneface succumb to the threats of the Bad Guys and declare a mistrial so Chuck Rotten can get away with murder? Or will he stick to his guns and do what’s right?

Perhaps Judge McStoneface has taken bribes in the past but he has fallen in love with a woman he greatly respects and has promised her never to do it again? Will he change? Or will he go back to what’s familiar?

“Conflict” isn’t only between Protagonist and Adversary. Conflict can be within a character’s self as well. Stir it up. The more conflict from within and between and among characters, the better.

If a Protagonist not only has to deal with the Adversary but he’s having problems at home as well, this ramps things up. Perhaps Judge McStoneface is divorced and learns:

  • his son has been caught drinking and driving and the ex-wife wants the judge to pull some strings;
  • is it true that his daughter is taking drugs and is getting dangerously close to prostituting herself to pay for them?
  • maybe he has discovered that his ex-wife was having an affair and his son/daughter isn’t his own …
  • who was the affair with? with the Crown Attorney? another judge? with the only man who can help him defeat the Antagonist? with the Antagonist himself?

There are endless possibilities for creating conflict for our Protagonist.

How about this storyline?

Which of these would a reader prefer?

A man and a woman meet in a grocery store:

  • he is handsome and single
  • she is beautiful and a widow
  • they date for a few months
  • they get engaged
  • they marry

End of story.

A man and a woman meet in a grocery store:

  • he is handsome and single
  • she is beautiful and a widow
  • they date for a few months
  • turns out his ex-girlfriend is stalking him and wants to get the widow out of the picture
  • turns out the widow’s best childhood friend is the ex-girlfriend
  • neither of the gals is aware of this just yet …
  • but the man is …
  • turns out the ex-girlfriend is an undercover cop (or a spy?) and wants to save the widow from the man
  • turns out the man is a serial bigamist who hunts widows (or is a counterspy?)

How will we end this story? What if the widow isn’t really a widow …? What if she’s the Bad Guy? What if the man knows this but the ex-girlfriend doesn’t? What if we turn this into a comedy and have everybody know everything about everybody else but for some convoluted reason nobody can divulge the information?

Yes. Conflict is required.


Next Post — Too Many Cooks

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):


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