Where’s The Conflict?

idea 2My manuscript is with my publisher, and I won’t return to it until edits roll around. So that means scouting about for a new idea. I’m not the kind of writer who has dozens of story ideas waiting in the wings, I wish I was. No, for me it takes a long time to decide what to write next.

Setting comes first. My books are always set in Australia’s wild places, so there are many wonderful candidates. Rainforests, deserts, mountains, wetlands, woodlands, the coast, our islands – the list goes on and on. Once I decide on a setting, then it’s time for characters and conflict.

conflictStories founder when they don’t have enough conflict. Characters who accomplish things easily are boring. So I always analyse a new premise to make sure enough obstacles exist between the characters and their goals. Obstacles can take many forms. They may be physical – other characters, weather, road blocks, injuries, etc. Or mental – fear, amnesia, ignorance, etc. Or circumstantial – can’t bake bread because there’s no flour, for example. I try to have the conflict evolve organically from the goal though, so no convenient, random anvils falling on character’s heads!

conflict 2The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my writing journey is to build in conflict by having inherent incompatibility between the goals of my two main characters. This is federal election day, so I’ll use a political example. X and Y are in love. They are also Labor and Liberal candidates respectively, campaigning in the same electorate. Raise the stakes. At the end of counting, the whole election comes down to this one seat. Make the stakes personal. They are both doctors. X has a special needs child named Z. A Labor win means ground breaking new experimental treatment would become available for Z. Y is a recovered drug user. A Liberal win would see Y’s dream of a local clinic for teenage addicts come true. During a recount, ballot papers go missing and suspicions fly.

The world of X and Y has hard-to-resolve conflict built into it. Two strong, opposing points of view, both believing in the rightness of their own positions, with plenty of points of connection. How would their love ever triumph? Now, what will I really write?

Congratulations to roslyngroves who is the winner of the Three Wishes prize draw. I’ll email you for your address. Thanks to everybody who commented!

5 thoughts on “Where’s The Conflict?

  1. I remember back in high school when my English teacher made the statement about conflict and the contrarian in me piped up otherwise. If she had shown me some of the more subtle examples along the lines of what you present, she would have spare me, well, a lot of conflict in writing.
    I still object to much I see presented and celebrate when long passages that go without strife still move along briskly (take the first 49 pages of Nicholson Baker’s “The Everlasting Story of Nory,” for instance), but much of life still adds up to dualities that rub together.
    Ah, Miss Hyle, I’ve been arguing with you for 47 years now — and I’ll finally concede that’s conflict!

  2. Great post Jennifer. You can’t have a plot without conflict, but once you build in such delicious conflict, how do you resolve it? Quite frankly I’d love to read something like your example because I simply /can’t/ imagine how you could resolve it, not just short term, but long term. You’ll have to build in a backdoor of some kind surely?

    I’m having just such issues with my WIP, and I”m kind of becalmed. Good luck with the next voyage of discovery. 🙂

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