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Sunday, August 22, 2021

A Book Without Conflict is Boring by Patty Blount

When I was a baby writer, I used to read quite a bit of fan fiction -- X Files, Outlander, Supernatural. One of the most frequent mistakes new writers make is no conflict between their primary characters, which makes a boring experience for readers.

Conflict drives plot. It also reveals character. 

Experts will tell you that conflict fits one of these types: 

  • Character vs. Self, where a character battles an inner demon such as guilt or grief, etc. 
  • Character vs. Character, when characters battle each other like Holmes and Moriarty or Superman and Lex Luthor
  • Character vs. Society, when characters battle what's generally accepted. Think Starr in The Hate U Give going up against systemic racism, or a duke unable to marry the love of his life because she's a commoner, or Katniss in the Hunger Games. 
  • Character vs. Technology, when characters battle a computer, the internet, a medical breakthrough, etc. Think Sarah Connor vs. Terminator. 
  • Character vs. Nature, when characters fight against rising tides or forest fires or extreme cold. Think Jack London's To Build a Fire. 
  • Character vs. Supernatural, when characters fight for the right to exist against an unknown force. It could be good vs. evil, it could be aliens, it could be ghosts. 

I used the SELF conflict in Send, my debut novel. Hero Dan Ellison battles monstrous guilt after a classmate commits suicide because of a picture Dan posted online. I used the Character vs. Character conflict in Someone I Used To Know. Siblings Derek and Ashley struggle to find a way to forgive each other for the events leading up to Ashley's rape by one of Derek's friends. There is also Character vs. Society in that story. The 'generally accepted' battle is rape culture and toxic masculinity in which Derek not only participates, he continues to defend and excuse. I used Character vs. Technology in my second novel, TMI. 

I'm currently writing a Character vs. Supernatural conflict, in which my teen hero is haunted by the ghost of his father. 

Conflicts like these move your story forward. But to reveal character, you need to give some thought to your characters' personal histories. Why do they want what they want? Why can't they have it? How does the OTHER CHARACTER stand in their way of success ?

This is particularly important for those writing romance because you don't want characters to fall instantly in love. Remember, conflict is what makes a story interesting. It's also what makes the happy ending feel like a well-earned reward. If it happens too easily, we're not invested in the outcome. So for romance, your characters ideally should have complementary conflicts. 

What does this mean? 

By 'complementary,' I mean the conflict is either shared by both characters or is inverted. A shared conflict is when both characters are in direct competition for the same thing -- a coveted promotion at work, for example. An inverted conflict is two sides to the same coin, for example -- a woman investigating a theft falls for the primary suspect in that crime. Sometimes, the conflicts are mirrored rather than inverted, meaning both characters share variations on the same conflict. A great example of this is Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits. Teens Noah and Echo both have family trauma involving tragedies and both go to extreme lengths to 'fix' their situations. 

This sort of mirrored conflict is one reason why I love to write dual POVs in my novels. 

Give me an example of your favorite fictional conflict in the comments! I am always looking for a compelling story. 




2 comments:

  1. This is such a great explanation of conflict. Also, I love this idea of teen vs. father's ghost.

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    1. This was actually the first novel I ever wrote. It's almost 20 years old and I first wrote it as an adult story. I'm now rewriting as YA and giving it an update.

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