In one of my writing groups, an author recently wanted to add conflict, so he made his characters fight. That turned his characters into people he didn’t like, which led to some frustration. He understood that his story needed conflict, but he wasn’t sure how to do that. He assumed relational conflict equated story conflict. That’s not the case.
What’s the difference?
For starters, stop thinking of it as conflict and start thinking about it as tension. You’re not trying to create conflicted between people, you’re trying to create tension in your story.
And how do you do that? Your character needs to have goals, and the tension comes when she doesn’t achieve those goals. Ruin your main character’s life. Not literally, but pretty much. You want to make things more and more difficult for her, which will create tension.
Take a look at Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
First, consider the characters and their relationships. From Belle’s point-of-view, she has certain feelings for the other characters. Those feelings create their own conflict.
- Papa – Belle loves him, but he disappears
- Gaston – she despises him, but he won’t leave her alone
- Beast – she fears him, but is stuck with him
Next, look at Belle’s story line. She wants something more, she just doesn’t know what. What she does know is that she loves living with her papa and she wants nothing to do with Gaston. Then this happens:
- Gaston arrives and proposes
- Papa gets stranded and captured
- Philippe returns alone
- Belle trades places with Papa
- Belle runs away and is attacked
But then something happens…Belle falls in love with Beast and he falls in love with her. Beast lets Belle go, but when she’s gone, she has doubts. And Beast slips into depression. Tension, tension, tension.
Even the minor characters create and confront tension. Look at Gaston. His goal is to make Belle his wife, but look at all of the conflict that creates tension in his story line:
- Belle refuses him
- Belle disappears
- Belle falls in love with the beast instead of him
All of these situations create tension in your story, which keep your reader engaged (and turning the page), but these aren’t arguments or irritating characters. So put down your pen and stop changing your characters. Instead, mess with their goals and see how they react.