If you have not been a follower of Kristen Lamb’s Blog, I highly suggest you check it out when you get a chance. She recently did a couple of posts dealing with conflict, and the one that really resonated with me was “Little Darlings and why they Must Die” In that post she makes the point that complications do not equal conflict. She wrote:
The problem is, complexity is not conflict. We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.
Before I read Kristen’s post, I had just finished reading a book that had been sent to me for possible review. While the writing in the book was engaging in parts and the central character was interesting, I was lost in layers of complications and kept sensing that something was missing. That something was real conflict.
Then I thought about the trouble I had in finishing Stalking Season, the second book in my mystery series, and realized that I had been struggling with this issue of conflict vs. complications. With a mystery, we want lots of suspects and false trails, but I know I have to be careful that I don’t focus too much on that and forget about the basics of conflict:
Character > goal > impediments
Another way to look at this is to think of drama as action and reaction. A character sets out to accomplish a goal, other characters or circumstances keep him from the goal, and he reacts. Keep in mind that reaction is emotional as well as physical. For example in a romance the couple might have a fight and one of them storms out. That is the physical reaction. The emotional is what the character feels and thinks about the fight and what it means to the relationship.
In my case, I had been concentrating on the procdural side of the detectives finding the killer, I had missed some opportunities for real conflict. I knew something was missing, just like I knew something was missing in the book I read for review, but I couldn’t define the missing part until that aha moment when I read Kristen’s blog.
Writers, how do you handle conflict in your stories?