When you’re writing fiction, you’re writing about characters in conflict, and the more believable you can make your novel’s conflicts, the better.
Conflicts can be major (battlefields in a war), or minor: “you promised you’d buy milk on your way home!”
Want to write a page-turner? Do that by ensuring that the conflicts between your characters seem insurmountable. If your book’s conflicts can be resolved simply, by characters talking to each other for example, readers won’t enjoy your book.
We talked about creating believable conflict at a recent writers’ group meeting.
Writing fiction: how do you create realistic conflict?
Your job as an author of fiction is to entertain. You can’t entertain readers if you make life easy for your characters. Give them goals and motivations which are in conflict. Make your characters fight.
Let’s look at some tips to help you to create believable conflict.
1. Try to make your characters’ conflicts stem from who they are
The most realistic conflicts between characters stem from who they are. The Odd Couple is my favorite example of this type of conflict. When Felix and Oscar live together they’re so different that conflict is guaranteed.
Have you watched any episodes of the long-running TV series, MASH? The series’ major conflicts came from the Korean war, but the characters were all in conflict too.
Most of the conflicts in your novel will be minor, but your major conflicts should be difficult or seemingly impossible to resolve.
2. Make your characters fight to achieve their goals
If you give your characters goals they’ll fight to win, you can make readers cheer for even the most despicable characters.
We’ve discussed characters’ goals, and suggested:
Try applying What, Why, Why Not, to the characters in your current WIP (work in progress.) Giving your characters strong goals makes them likable. Scarlett O’Hara and Becky Sharp are two fictional characters no one can love. They’re horrid, each in her own way.
3. Vary the conflicts in your novel: every scene in your novel should contain conflict
Are you writing in scenes?
TV and movie stories are delivered in scenes. If you want lots of readers, you need to learn to deliver your stories in scenes too.
Readers are impatient. They just want the story. Deliver. Show, rather than tell. “Showing” means writing in scenes.
Every scene in your novel needs to contain at least one conflict, preferably several conflicts — either revealing character, or moving the plot forward.
You can set out to do this deliberately, and you must.
Ways you can do that:
- Differentiate your characters: remember Oscar and Felix;
- Ensure that each character in a scene wants something, and is determined to get it;
- List potential conflicts before you start writing a scene. What triggers the scene’s characters?
Conflicts make writing fiction fun
Few people enjoy conflict in daily life. Most of us go out of our way to avoid conflicts, but even the most even-tempered of us have buttons which can trigger instant reactions.
When you focus on creating conflicts in your fiction you’ll enjoy writing more — and your readers will thank you.
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