Conflict and Fiction

In real life most people I know avoid conflict in whatever form it appears. Some people even go to great lengths to hide from it, and pretend it doesn’t exist. While other people I know seem to thrive on it and seek out excuses to create conflict everywhere they go. And others walk that thin line in between seeking to make both sides happy.

The cat sat on the mat is not a story. Sure the cat is the main character and it is doing something and there is even a setting, but it isn’t a story because nothing happens. The cat doesn’t change. The mat remains a mat. And the cat has no impetus to change.

So how can we make it a story? Let’s add some conflict, or even just the hint of conflict. Let’s say The cat sat on the dog’s mat. Now, without the cat moving or the setting changing at all, we have introduced conflict. The readers mind is now on the move asking questions about what will happen next. Is the dog the MC and the cat the antagonist? Or is the cat the MC and the dog a victim? Something is going to have to change before resolution can happen.

If we wanted to go even further, we could say The cat peed on the dog who was asleep on his mat. If we thought the dog was going to be upset before this, now we can be assured that conflict will arise. The dog is now clearly a victim of this ruthless attack. Will he dog take it lying down? Will he chase the cat?

Sure this is a very simplified way to look at writing. Our MC in our stories are much more complex and the relationships they are involved in are more dynamic than any cat and dog are going to be. But the point is we need conflict to drive our story forward.

No matter where you stand in reality, in fiction you must address conflict head-on . Without conflict, you have no story. It might be nice to spend your evening sitting on the porch sipping lemonade watching a beautiful sunset, but other than your mother or our great Aunt Lucy, no one wants to read about it.

Now, if you were sitting on your porch sipping lemonade and watching a beautiful sunset when an neighbors angry dog invaded your space and chased you up a tree, then a thunderstorm whipped up and lightening set that tree on fire, and the fire scared a nest of hornets into a swarm around you, everyone would want to read about it.

Your job as a writer is not to keep the peace, create a happy world where everyone loves everyone, or relate every mundane happy thought someone has. Your job is take your MC and chase them up that tree that’s blazing with fire, swarming with hornets, staked out by a rabid dog, during a thunderstorm and then let them wiggle their way out of it and come out alive on the other end.

A good story is all about conflict and resolution.

One of the most difficult things a writer can do is fictionalize their own conflicts. Those tormented relationships, bad decisions, horrible mistakes, abusive situations, etc that we’d all dearly love to forget ever happened in our lives, can be the very things that create the best fiction. It’s hard because writing about them can bring up bad memories and painful emotions, but only when we tap into those deep gutteral emotions and fictionalize them can we ever really grab the readers hearts.

And that’s what we want to do. We want our readers to feel something, to be moved, whether it’s to anger or love or sorrow or sheer joy. But to do so we have to have conflict and resolution.


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