Is your story boring? Are you struggling to stay interested in what you’re writing? If so, then you might not have enough conflict to keep yourself and your readers engaged.
What is conflict? Conflict is the driving force of your novel. Without conflict, we can’t have a story. And piling on that conflict will make for a better story.
Goal: Your protagonist wants something (goal) but they can’t have it -> that right there is your primary conflict. The journey of a novel is them struggling to achieve this goal while we (the author) throw obstacles at them. To have conflict, the reader needs to know what the protagonist’s goal is. Do they want to escape? Do they want to save someone? To want to see the character achieve their goal, the reader needs to know why they want it. They need to know what the consequences will be if they fail. We need to make our reader care. Engage them emotionally. The more important the goal is, the more engaging your conflict and novel will be.
Uncertainty: Most books end in a happily ever after and yours most likely does too. The reader knows this and so, they expect a happy ending. We need to shake that certainty. We need to make them question whether our protagonist is going to succeed and we can only do this by making the task seem impossible. We can also achieve this by foreshadowing if something bad is going to happen – because even in a happily ever after, there are consequences. So, allude to them subtly. Make your reader question what the outcome will be. Keep them on their toes.
So, we have a crystal clear goal that our readers are emotionally invested in and we have made them unsure of the outcome. But maybe that isn’t quite enough. Luckily enough, there are two extra spices we can throw into our recipe for engaging conflict.
Temporal aspects: To up our tension and create more conflict for our protagonist, we can put them against time. If there’s a set time limit and you’ve achieved the above two in creating meaningful conflict, then your reader will biting their nails along with your character.
Lack of control: This builds on uncertainty. By throwing obstacles that are out of your protagonist’s influence, you will make achieving the goal seem even more impossible. If the problem is so much bigger than your protagonist, then they will feel lost despite their efforts.
Overall, I really believe that meaningful and engaging conflict is the key to writing a brilliant story. Sure, structure and characterization and everything else is important but conflict is what keeps people flicking those pages. To me, it’s the most important part of a story.
Make me care about a clear goal and make me doubt the character is going to achieve it. That’s what makes a compelling story.