Saturday, October 18, 2008


Someone once said to me that they were having trouble with conflict in their story. For example, they had a protagonist and a sidekick and a problem. Both characters knew what they had to do, so they worked together and did it. Problem solved. But too quickly, too neatly. And the writer didn’t see how they could insert any conflict since the characters were working together and knew what had to be done. And yet … the writer didn’t want things to go so smoothly.

Of course, you can always insert problems that arise from outside influences or from the antagonist. But you can also have problems between the two characters, despite their common goal.

Look at your own life. I'm sure you have had occasions when you wanted to set up a lunch with friends or a family reunion. You think it's going to be easy. Everyone wants to get together, everyone is glad you're all finally going to have a sit down to discuss things.

And yet, when you try to work it all out, suddenly everyone has a different opinion, no one wants the same thing or even the same outcome. Lo and behold, even your friends and relatives see things differently than you do.

If you look at things not just from this is where my character is and this is where he needs to be and this is the straightest way to get there, but rather from the different points of views and concerns of all the parties, you will have conflict. It will arise naturally.


  1. Conflict seems to be about decisions. You've decided one thing, but circumstances make you do your deciding all over again and it's not what you expected.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. I have so much conflict in my own thoughts and beliefs (and extended family) that it comes naturally to my characters and stories. Lucky me?

  3. Good point Morgan. Circumstances and a character's decision to take a different direction is what leads the plot to a place not expected.

  4. LJ, you probably have little trouble writing from different sets of beliefs. I saw that in your book, The Sex Club.

  5. I think this is good advice indeed for producing those complex conflicts, those subtle nuances of conflict within realistic character development. It is too easy to write with clear cut superficial easy to understand characters and motivations. Looking at the complexity of our own lives, challenges, motivations and decisions is a good way to write stories that are set in "real world" environments.

  6. Very well said Marvin.

    It's not the easiest way to write scenes and characters, but it's worth the work.


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