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Top 10 Tips to Create Conflict in Your Story
by Samantha Stone

Create Conflict in Your StoryAll stories need conflict of some kind. Without any conflict at all, your story will wilt, stagnate, and noticeably tread water. Conflict can come from nearly anywhere, anyone, and at any time in the storyline, but conflict must come early in the story. Varied sizes and intensities of conflict can come all throughout the storyline.

Conflict can also exhaust a story – and readers, if there is no let-up or humor mixed in – so schedule the magnitude and force of the conflict at the correct places in your story. This can help you avoid the dreaded look of contrived conflict.

Keep these 10 tips in mind when plotting to find unexpected or overlooked opportunities for creating conflict.

1. Genre Has a Vote

The type of genre your story is will play a role in deciding the types of conflict available. Military and romance fiction have expected types of conflict; warring nations or factions, rival suitors or desires.

2. Start with a Problem

Begin your story as close as you can to the main conflict of your plot, but don’t jump in so quickly your reader will feel lost. Too much confusion too early will not engage most readers, but using too much backstory too soon can make interest wane.

3. Conflict Should Have Purpose

Be sure the conflict moves your story. Argumentative banter just for the sake of ‘conflict’ will appear contrived and even meaningless and your readers will notice.

4. Man Against Man

The age-old man versus man is one of the oldest conflicts. Cain and Abel both wanted approval. In Gulliver’s Travels, war broke out over how to crack an egg. In the movie The Lion in Winter, King Henry, his three sons, France’s prince, and Henry’s wife Eleanor of Aquitaine all promote their agendas – sometimes together, sometimes cutting each other out – during the Christmas season. All this was natural conflict arising from personal desires.

5. Character Against the World

Pit your character against high odds. Nothing adds more conflict to a story than sheer survival. From the Swiss Family Robinson to Robinson Caruso to Castaway, survival of man against his world is epic. Even if you change the world for your character, as in 1984, survival is a basic conflict.

6. Unsweetened Romance

Sweet romances, often in the young adult genre, tend to be more on the less-conflicted side, but they should still have at least minor conflicts. Romances with stronger, more mature themes have more choices for conflict. Stagger and strengthen these conflicts between characters, keeping that pining and yearning alive.

7. Throw Rocks

While most of us duck rocks thrown at us, in your story, chucking rocks at your characters is what gives the story its life. Conflict can arise from goals, other characters, time constraints, and environment. Run your protagonist up a tree or corner them, and then throw rocks. Don’t be afraid of injuring a hero; you can always create some character development while the hero heals.

8. Differing Goals and Agendas

Give your characters different goals and desires. Maybe two men are in love with the same woman, or two nations want the coastline to a strip of land, or two teens want the same spot on a cheerleading squad. Let clashes happen, use them to nudge each character within the story.

9. Use Setbacks

Despite the sound of setbacks, these reversals keep conflict alive and the story moving. Don’t let your character get too stable, too comfortable. Keep them on edge, even if it’s an emotional edge in a romance story, until the end.

10. Readership Matters

Keep your readers in mind when you create conflict. What may work for a sultry romance will not be welcome in a YA novel, and what a younger reader sees as conflict may not be a challenge for an older reader. Know your intended readership.

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