A story is nothing without conflict. There must be a some form of obstacle to overcome, big or small...there must be stakes, something for your reader to invest in. Without a conflict, complications, and resolution, a story can really fall flat.
How does your writing measure up? Are you giving your characters the dynamic plot and conflict they deserve? Or are you pulling your punches just when it counts the most?
Stories are divided into
"parts": the Exposition (background),
Rising Action (complications), Climax (sort of self-explanatory), the Falling Action (aftermath) and Denoument (resolution).Your simplest diagram of a story looks like
stories may look
Here, you see the rising
action/conflict stage makes up more of the story than the falling action.A story followingthese proportions
may feel more realistic, as events don't usually fall out in nice, balanced,
This breakdown would work well
for a short story. For something longer, you're likely to have multiple
complications, several points of conflict. A novel's diagram probably looks
more like this:
What is conflict? It would seem obvious, but many writers seem to misunderstand it. Conflict needs to be something that puts some real stakes on the
table. It requires characters to take action, and it should always be followed
by meaningful consequences and/or results.
Let's look at some actual published
examples of "magically disappearing" troubles:
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,
Ron and Hermione need to get into the Chamber of Secrets, which can only be opened by
Ron manages to "imitate" parseltongue (a language previously
restricted to inheritors of the Slytherin bloodline).
In Breaking Dawn, Bella and the
Cullens are prepared for the worst when Bella transforms into a vampire. They
expect Bella to have to endure a year of uncontrollable new vampire strength
and bloodlust, meaning a year they will have to keep her away from humans
(including her father).
Bella is inexplicably different from every other vampire and has barely any
trouble at all adjusting.. Life resumes as normal right away.
3.Problem:In several romance titles across sub-genres, the love
pair is prevented from fully realizing their feelings for one another thanks to
stubborn refusal to explain simple things.
Someone finally decides to explain something they had almost no reason to keep
to themselves in the first place.
should be noted in the last example, it is the problem which fails to hold stakes or consequences, rather than the
solution failing to measure up to the stakes.This is
becoming a very common problem
presented in erotic romance: the love pair's biggest obstacle is their own
refusal to speak to one another.The
problem with this device is the solution is far too easy for problem to be so
While this is not always a poor conflict, it often becomes
bigger and more difficult than realistically necessary. This can effectively be
used for comedic effect; when it is used for serious conflict, the author must
be careful, else it becomes frustrating and unrealistic. Consider how
satisfying it is to make a journey with a character whose biggest obstacle is
becoming flustered and spitting out something they ought to have said in the
Unfortunately, new writers are
adopting this 'easy' method of removing obstacles for their character's
stories. We see many, many more cases of characters solving their problems (or
having their problems solved for them)
in easy, convenient means. Conflicts are forgiven, dismissed, ignored or
written away without investment.
This is a literary device known
as a deus ex machina: "God from
the Machine". It refers to a convention in Greek plays where one of the gods
would descend to the stage and solve all the complications with a wave of his
or her hand. But it is a cheap—and lazy—means of solving problems.
Conflict must be proportionate to
the payoff, and vice-versa. As a writer, I am familiar with the daunting task
of trying to untie the Gordian knots I've thrown my own characters into.
However, balancing real conflict and resolution is a downright necessity to
good writing. I owe it to my characters, and to my readers. So when I create a
conflict, I have to give it a real meaning and real consequences. Conflicts can
be big or conflicts can be small, but they must be what they are, and nothing
My encouragement to authors is to
dive into your conflicts. Avoid deus ex
machina—the easy solution handed down by the fates, the heavens, or just plain dumb luck. Make your
characters take action and do the work of handling conflicts. As intimidating
or uncomfortable as it may be, you'll give them a better payoff. Then they
enjoy the fruits of a "job well done".