I seem to have a problem with conflict. I don’t like it. I don’t want to imagine it. I’m having trouble writing it. I think deep down, I avoid conflict to the point I don’t believe it exists.
Silly me. Conflict occurs constantly. It’s the way of our universe. It can be as small as not being able to get a lid off a jar or having to reboot the computer. Conflict with nature is an ongoing human condition. We need to have water, food, shelter, rebuild after catastrophic storms, battle our way through jungles, deserts, mountains and the list continues. Conflict with one’s self is common with things like guilt, self doubt, and self control. Conflict with society encompasses religion, governments, and social norms.
When it comes to conflict between people, I cringe. People beating up on other people, a couple having a shouting match, or someone murdering innocents are things that frighten me. Most people want to avoid bad things happening to them, but bad things happen anyway. Bad things happen to entire populations. It’s part of the human condition and is something we strive to overcome.
Conflict makes for a good tale. Seems obvious doesn’t it? Creating obstacles for your protagonist to overcome is the meat and potatoes of the story. Take The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, conflict entwines every part. We have person on person conflict with battles between the human-elf-dwarf faction and the orcs and other dark minions, Frodo’s conflict with himself and his effort to destroy the ring, plus the overall battle of good versus evil. The list could fill pages and it is what makes the trilogy epic, in my opinion.
In The Third Law of Motion, by Meg Files, Dulcie is conflicted with herself. She is complacent in her relationship with Lonnie and her internal conflict is the only way the reader knows she isn’t thrilled with the situation. Later in the story, the conflict becomes more physical. This story is not an epic tale but is filled with tension. It’s an uncomfortable story. It’s a good story.
So why do I have such a hard time writing conflict? Every good story I read is a story about conflict of some type. Am I so in love with my characters that I can’t put them in danger? Is my protagonist so perfect they don’t have internal conflicts? Maybe my protagonist loves the world they are in and is perfectly happy going along day by day without difficulty. The weather is perfect in my protagonist’s world and they are so physically fit they can climb Mt. Everest without breathing hard. Did I mention the protagonist is well liked by everyone? And of course, my protagonist never has problems twisting the lid off a jar.
There’s no story in the above scenario. Perfection isn’t reality. It isn’t anyone’s reality, even in fiction. Why do I keep repeating myself? Because I’m trying to convince myself I need to throw all sorts of trouble at my protagonist. My character needs to be riddled with self doubt or guilt. They need to struggle with their physicality or their co-workers. I need an assassin. My character will be attacked by a secret society of assassins. Wait, that sounds familiar. I need to think of something else.
I recently had a story rejected. I believe part of the reason was the conflict was minimal. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a conflict that wouldn’t be cliché so I didn’t write one. That was a mistake.
Several homework assignments for an on-line pitches and blurbs class required that I condense a story to four or five lines. What I saw during that exercise the lack of conflict in several of my stories. The protagonist had no real direction or uphill battles. I had to invent a conflict for the blurb. Now I need to go back to those stories and pull them apart, reassemble them with a defined problem to solve.
I have a story posted on my website. The link is to the left on this blog. One of the reasons I like Fortuna is the conflict. I know what Sharon fights against and it makes the story work. It is one of the few stories I’ve written that does work.
This whole writing thing is a learning process and I have a lot more learning to do.