I've never really thought about conflict in my books before, but when this topic came up, I realize I LOVE conflict and tend to toss a ton at my characters. Apparently, I'm the queen of more, bigger, faster when it comes to putting my characters in difficult situations.
When I wrote DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, I didn't outline at all, I just had a vague idea of the story. I started off with a lot of conflict for my character Lucy in that she comes home to find her mother dead in the middle of their horribly hoarded home. Instead of dialing 911, Lucy decides to try to fix things before people find out how they've been living and instead of being the nice family on Collier Ave, her mother is remembered as the crazy hoarder lady. (None of that is a spoiler - it happens in Chapter 2.)
Back in 2008, there weren't all of the hoarding shows that are on TV today, so I got in touch with the people who ran the website Children of Hoarders for help. They told me stories and read bits and pieces (and in some cases whole drafts) of the book. One woman asked how the story was going to end. I brushed it off with a vague, "I'm not sure. I think Lucy will realize that none of this is her fault and she'll call 911." My reader nicely informed me that Lucy's story had to end with a bang not a whimper and gave me the idea for what ultimately became the actual ending (talking about it here would be a big spoiler, and I've been so proud of reviewers who don't reveal how she solves her problem).
At first, my reaction was NO WAY! I couldn't possibly end the book like that- the character wouldn't come off as sympathetic and no editor in her right mind would buy it. As I got closer to the end of Lucy's story, I realized that my reader was right - a huge amount of conflict was the only way this story could possibly end. I wrote the chapter, crossed my fingers and have been thrilled with how the book has been received. There have been a few mutterings about the ending (always from adults), but most people feel that this was the way it had to be.
So many times in the years since I wrote The End, I'll be watcing a TV show about hoarding and one of the participants will echo Lucy's feelings word for word, and that tells me that by not being afraid to up the conflict in my story, I found her absolute truth.
In my real life though, don't count on me in a fight. I can run really fast.