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Conflict: How to Create it

Yes I know that conflict is not something most people want more of, especially at this time of year, thankfully I’m talking more about writing stories than I am about real life.

Conflict keeps books moving and keeps readers interested in what’s before them. That person trying to split up the two love-birds or that dodgy radiator on the race car that doesn’t have time to be fixed before the big race are all conflict creators. Conflict is the things the characters have to overcome to reach their goals. The spanner in the works.

Often a full length novel has more than one thing causing that conflict. A single main problem and several little ones along the way. Sometimes even a series of problems that have to be overcome one after the other.

All too often in creating a book I hear of people getting part way through and finding the book drags a little. The conflict is already sorted out and without some more the book has no where to really go.

I plan my conflict around several things. Here’s a list of the questions I ask myself to decide what I could add to make the book more interesting.

What conflict could challenge a defect in an important character? If a character is too shy or not brave they need something to challenge them to be brave and face up to a fear. Character’s all have weaknesses but life often teaches us to grow past those. Realistic characters with depth all manage to grow as well.

What conflict could be a result of character flaws or earlier bad choices? If a character chooses to share a secret that’s not their own out of a desire to stop someone else from saying something stupid, there could be conflict when the people find out that secret has been shared. It could lead to the wrong person finding out about the secret.

What conflict could arise thanks to the setting? If the book is set in a prison then another prisoner could break out, forcing the officials to bring in harsher restrictions. In a book set in the Caribbean islands, there could be a hurricane or a massive storm. The surroundings can be a great source of conflict and delay to the ending of the book.

Whatever ends up being the conflict that stops our hero’s from achieving it’s the thing that hooks a reader and keeps them reading. People want to know how the main character it going to get through it all. They want to be tricked into thinking they might not manage it and to be held on the edge of their seats until right at the last minutes, when everything is finally overcome.

And of course, there’s always real life inspiration. I’m sure most people can think of something that’s probably gone awry over the last week or so.

Plotting: How-to

One of the important aspects of writing anything is the plot. It has to engage the readers and make them want to keep turning the pages to ideally not put the book down but at worst make them want to come back to the book later.

For me personally I find my plot comes out of knowing my characters. I work out who they are and their strengths, weakness, flaws and redeeming features. I also work out what they are passionate about achieving within their background, their past and occupation. This leads me on to how they will meet and I usually try to start my book in some kind of ‘action’ moment before this.

The rest of the plot comes from conflict. Life is made up of trials, situations and problems that humans have to endure and get through. Plot is pretty similar. People like to read about characters overcoming things and getting to the end with some kind of resolution even if not a perfectly happy one.

From the start of the book I figure out what’s likely to go wrong based on their character flaws and weaknesses. Sometimes I’ll bring in a side character or two to help provide conflict and trials for the characters to overcome. In With Proud Humility, the pirates provided the biggest trial but I also had the two main characters clashing to provide trials for each other, as well as Marie’s father providing difficulties.

Often the plot of my stories is a mix of external people doing things to my characters and their own flaws creating situations where they have to grow and learn. By the end of the book I try to make sure they’ve all learnt a little something and are better people. They won’t ever be perfect but they do get closer.

I tend to find with this way of looking at the plot that it evolves out of the characterisation and makes the people easier to relate to. I never really have to sit down and hugely plot out the book. I’ll do rough notes on major events but the characters themselves drive the plot forwards with their personalities and decisions. The ending is usually a fixed point, the resolution point and the things the characters have learnt but the rest in between is simply my narrative of the journey the characters go on.