Monday, May 7, 2012

Adding Conflict to Our Stories

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I usually don’t open forwarded videos (or forwarded emails of any kind) unless it’s something I’ve heard a lot about or something that’s gone especially viral (and I mean viral in a good way.) This video is a fast-paced 1:46.

You’ve probably seen this, actually…it’s hard to avoid the video online or in your email inbox right now.

As a writer, I found it especially entertaining because I feel like that’s practically my whole life right now—throwing conflict, complications, and assorted drama at my unsuspecting characters.

Need drama? This video succinctly sums up many of the ways to do it (of course, the video’s take is random and campy):


Health calamities


Physical confrontation

Political intrigue

Sex (which can add a slew of different complications to a story)

The element of surprise (pretty much the running theme of the whole video.)

This video doesn’t even cover internal conflict…which adds even more tension and complexity to a story. Does your protagonist have inner demons? Flaws that are holding him back? Personal struggles he’s up against?

Usually adding conflict to your story is key to fixing a slow-paced or boring story. You also need to know what your character wants most and then throw up obstacles to your character receiving it.

Conflict doesn’t have to be a shoot-out resulting in a victim being dragged off by American football players. For the story I’m writing now, I’ve got conflict as minor as a tedious search for a missing suspect at a busy festival. Then I’ve got conflict as major as a physical fight preceding the discovery of the stabbed victim.

Simple tension in the form of worries can also help readers relate to our main character. Worrying is something we all understand. My protagonist in my current WIP is worried about different people who are important to her. Those characters are creating conflict through their own personal problems (some of which play into the mystery I’m writing, some of which are side issues that act as a subplot and provide tension.)

As we all know, worrying eats up hours for most of us—this keeps our protagonist from his goal, too. The key with worries is that the protagonist has to act on his worries. Protagonists don’t just uselessly worry over stuff or they’d be as boring as we are. :) They’ve got to try to effect change. Maybe their butting in also creates tension and conflict. Sometimes we aren’t happy with people who try to fix our problems for us.

Do you use a lot of conflict and tension in your stories? Is your conflict on a smaller scale, larger scale, or both?