Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday, July 20 Conflict in Fiction

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”.


Linsey Lanier said...

Good examples of conflict, Maxine. Conflict - both external and internal - abounds in the stories we read and the movies we see, if we just remember to look for it. Thanks for reminding us.

Yes, the trick is to keep our manuscripts bumpy with conflict, while keeping our personal lives smooth. Not always easy, but doable with effort. :)


Marilyn Baron said...

Great post. We all hope we can apply these principles to our writing.

Marilyn Baron

Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning, Maxine,

Yes, conflict makes the world go round...and makes a book enjoyable as they solve the conflict.

I tend to go for the obvious conflict...thief vs cop but some of the best conflicts are when we THINK there's more problem than there really is. We THINK the guy is being harsh and nonflexible when he's just being cautious because of prior experiences in life. Done correctly, suttle (emotional) conflict is as good or better at driving a story as the obvious conflict.

Great post...really enjoyed it.


Anna Steffl said...

I think our guiding light Deb Dixon said that good conflict is something that couldn't be resolved if the characters just sat down and talked it out.

As always, a wonderful post from Maxine!

Debbie Kaufman said...

I like what Dianna Love says about conflict. Give them choices between sucks and suckier. I don't think I'm good at that yet, but, I'm working on it.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks, Maxine. I've been thinking about this a lot since I have issues with conflict. I've been thinking a lot about one of my favorite movies, The Mummy. (I know, I know, it's not going to make one of the best 100 or anything) That movie seems to be all external conflict and it still works. What are your thoughts on that?


Maxine Davis said...

Good morning ladies,
Thank you so much to all of you your comments.

Sandy, I'm w/you. You can't go wrong with thief vs cop! Love those.

...Deb Dixon and Dianna Love certainly know, don't they! Great writers and teachers!

The Mummy? You're right Sally, all external and it still works for me.

Hope each of you have a great day.

Susan May said...

I love to hate conflict. I can see it in a good movie or book but I have a devil of a time making it strong enough in my work. I just don't want to be hard enough on my characters, but I'm working on it. I made it a point to go to the conflict workshops at national. They helped but I know it will still cause blood and tears to get that conflict into my work.

Maxine Davis said...

I know what you mean. I seem to want to write what I mentioned in the 1st paragraph that people wouldn't buy - boy-meets-girl, they-all-in-love, they-live- happily-ever after. Oh, well, I'm striving for conflict now.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Maxine,

Great post! I am the worst person for conflict. I want it all wrapped up nice and neat in a bow. Which is why I have the hardest time in my writing. I, too, need to take Dianna's advice and work at sucky and suckier...grin...

Thanks for sharing this and I agree about the Mummy. BUT I still love that movie. It totally works for me.


Ana Aragón said...


Ah, you know my pain. And, yet, when I get it just, does that feel good!

Thanks for the great usual!


Maxine Davis said...

Tami, Ana,
Thank you for your comments.

I'm relieved that I am not the only person with 'conflict issues.'

However, you know what they say, our Works in Progress await. Now lets all curve those fingers over those keys and type.