Tuesday, July 5, 2016


While reading a blog post the other night about how to generate conflict within your novel, it got me to thinking – what causes it?  Yes, I see conflict all the time when I turn on a TV show or read a novel, but I rarely go out in life looking for conflict.  I’m not talking about holding a different opinion that might stir debate, but real conflict where the stakes are high.

Therefore, after spending some time brainstorming, I’ve come up with a few things that I’ve found I keep in mind while trying to create a plot:
1.  Differing moral systems.  No villain ever thinks he or she is a bad person.  Only in kiddie tales is the bad guy gleefully rubbing his hands together while cackling, all while expounding on how evil his scheme is.  Instead, conflict is the result of value systems that are at odds with each other.  Maybe one side believes that people aren’t mature enough to handle responsibility, so they want to impose order that will safeguard society, while the other side thinks people should be able to do as they please unless that freedom inflicts physical harm.  These two belief systems are in direct conflict, and they can lead to tension for a story.

2.  Scarcity.  Believe it or not, most alien invasion novels are about scarcity.  Maybe Earth is one of the few worlds suited for life, so aliens need it to colonize.  Maybe there’s some resource(oil, water, glitter) that only exists here, and there’s not enough for everyone, so a survival mode takes over that seeks maximum benefit for its own side.  Perhaps aliens need humans for food because they don’t have enough.  Regardless of the reason, lack of resources will create a fight.

3.  Love.  Love causes all kinds of conflict, especially if it exists between two people competing for it over a third person.  As much as society has changed, we’re not at the point where most of us are willing to accept sharing our love interest with someone else.  Vying for affection, or trying to rub out a rival for that affection, underlies the conflict for many stories throughout history.

4.  Ambiguity.  Ambiguity can cause conflict because we act in absence of all the information.  This seems to be the basis of most crime dramas – no one knows exactly who killed the professor, so we have to try and fill in those blanks.  Sometimes we get it wrong, which can lead to even more conflict.

Whatever the reason, as you begin to outline the plot of your novel, think heavily about the underlying conflict.  Stories with depth have a backstory that demonstrates why the conflict exists, and that depth is felt by the audience.  So spend some time pondering why there’s conflict in your book – it’ll show in the final product.

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