By Maxine Davis
Conflict in fiction does not have to mean pistols drawn at 10 paces. A story without conflict is just . . . well, a story. How many books would you buy that start out: boy-meets- girl, they-fall-in-love, and they live-happily-ever-after? Never mind; I know.
The conflict is essential to the main characters to draw the readers into their lives. Teenagers are as moved by the quiet girl’s getting a date with the most popular boy for the homecoming dance as we are by the scene with Scarlett as she pulls the carrot from the ground, making her vow never to be hungry again.
You must create the need to overcome the conflict and make it almost life and death. And conflict is not just one situation. An example is Dahlia Demorest’s conflict as she comes face to face with the man she thinks killed her father and then feeling her heart racing as he touches her. Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff came to Wuthering Heights as a gypsy who wanted revenge, yet who grew to love his stepsister, all the while knowing he could not have her. The reader feels sorry for him and weeps at the resolution. Professor Higgins is so wrapped up in changing Eliza Doolittle’s language habits that he cannot truly see her transformation into someone beautiful and intelligent who loves him.
In an article by Linda Shertzer, she said creating a good conflict in a romance is only one side of the writing dilemma. The other, equally important, side is how one resolves that conflict. Usually the hero and heroine are at opposites. It can be on a number of things, some of which include marriage, family, goals, politics, religion, or control. If he is a jewel thief and she is head of security, there is going to be a conflict. But, there cannot be conflict forever. There has to be some give-and-take. Characters mature, characters learn to negotiate. It might be an all-out argument or it might be communication. The conflict must build. There must be emotion that the reader feels so strongly that he or she becomes a part of that story.
Conflict is what makes us want to read the story. Conflict creates suspense. It hooks the reader. Conflict makes us love or hate the characters. It is the plot, the reason we read the book. There must be a struggle that we fear will end the relationship, yet we must keep reading to see how the struggle will be resolved and that resolve can leave us laughing, crying, or sighing.
My challenge as a writer as I develop conflict is to answer the questions I pose to myself. Is it enough? Is it recognizable as conflict? Is it emotional enough and not just a bump in the road to the end of the novel? Is there sufficient suspense, making the obstacle seems impossible for the characters to overcome?
Conflict for the reader is wonderful; for the writer, it can be excruciatingly painful, or it can be absolute fun. Fun, of course, is what we wish for. Me? Excruciating pain followed by a tear, a laugh and a sigh. Oh, yes, and the celebratory glass of champagne after that one last “Save As”.