Conflict makes the world go round.
Conflict is what makes your story stand out, what keeps people reading. Without it, interest is lost and you may as well be reading a step by step manual on how to go about your routine as casually as possible. That is, unless you’re writing on how to handle stress, then knock yourself out. But for the rest of us we don’t usually pick up a book so we can find out that so and so’s life is just as everyday as ours.
So what exactly do I mean by conflict? Conflict is anything that gives your character a hard times, internally or externally. Now, I don’t mean monkeys throwing coconuts in every other tree and giant scythes installed at random to slice up any unsuspecting victims. Nor do I mean kill everything in your path creating heartache of epic proportions of the likes we’ll never see again, though one author seems to have made this his signature brand!
Conflict can be something as simple as an argument or as monumental as impending war/destruction of the planet. It might be a natural disaster or a friend telling a teen they don’t like them anymore. It can play out entirely in your character’s head or affect an entire race if the outcome isn’t positive.
Here’s one way to think about it. Imagine you’re watching the clouds overhead on a beautiful day. Those clouds gracefully pass from view pushed along by a wind you don’t feel from your earthbound position. This is a good metaphor for conflict. You’re characters are going about their day most likely unaware of the turmoil happening throughout the land. But it’s there, the turmoil and trouble, pushing events along. Eventually, one of those clouds might cover up the sun to ruin your perfect day and maybe giving you a chill. That’s the game changer. Now your character is somehow involved and, of course, they are the only person who might set this entire mess straight.
Break your story down scene by scene. Is there conflict in each? It can be as simple as a choice and your character has to live with the end results. It can be the thing that sets your character on his/her great journey. Maybe your character wants something so badly they’ll do anything to get it. But do they get it? And more importantly, do they get it in exactly the way they desired?
I know when I started out I would have defined conflict as something huge; dinosaurs ripping through the populace, meteors falling to the earth, a man murdering his entire family to ensure his place as next in line to the throne. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be life altering, it doesn’t even have to affect anyone except your character. I can be something as simple as an internally debating their attraction to someone, fighting it with heart and soul. No one else is aware of this debate, wars won’t be fought over it, lives won’t end. The only ones aware and affected are your character and your reader.
It’s often the little things that often get your story moving. This humanizes our characters, makes them relatable. Imagine how much fun it is to read about someone who never makes mistakes, who succeeds in all things, who never gets hurt, never loses or risks losing anything or anyone. Yeah, can’t relate to them now, can you? Exactly my point. As I mentioned in a previous post, even our modern day superheroes are being examined under the microscope to reveal their character flaws. No one is perfect. Except maybe a newborn.
So set the stakes! What if your character does fall in love? Does this divert their attention from the true purpose or distract them from their duties? Or does it save the life of the significant other, because without that connection they’d perish in some horrible, bone crunching, bloody way?
What if your character decides to not show up to their prom, only to find out later that everyone was killed in some gruesome attack. Does your character thank their lucky stars, or are they somehow sucked into the delusion that if they were there they could have stopped the event altogether? Are they on the suspect list because of their timely absence? Maybe they spend the rest of their lives writing fiction about similar scenarios, but playing them out with heroes and villains and everybody lives story lines. Who knows, maybe they make a story of the people who died and their possible futures, all fantastic, yet ultimately all tragic because none of those souls survived to realize their potential.
In any case, all this to say that drinking tea and eating scones won’t advance your story and may actually make the readers put it down. Who wants to read about putting out the garbage? Unless of course the bag rips and spills it’s disgusting content onto the newly laid carpet. Or they’re rushing to put it out only to have the garbage man drive away as they step outside, the starting of a very bad day for your character. Who knows, it could be the beginning of his/her quest for world domination!
So whatever you write, ensure you don’t have your characters simply walking from one place to another without advancing the plot somehow, or sitting around eating all the time without gathering some precious info from the gossip around them or something. New authors tend to want to write it all in, the transitions from place to place included. Write it if you need to at the time, that’s what rough drafts are for, but don’t forget to edit afterwards.