This Business of Writing

Conflict – The Secret to a Novel’s Success

In The Craft of Writing on January 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm

The secret to any good story is the problem that requires solving. In fact, without this all-important central problem, known as conflict, you have no novel. Conflict is critical for it draws your reader into your story and is the key component that weaves all the elements of your novel together.

The secret to conflict is to know what it is. As I outlined in an earlier post, (click here), conflict is not the crisis or what happens to your characters. It is not the battle, the argument or the deception. Conflict rests upon their thoughts and feelings, toward these events your characters experience. It’s found within the moral choices they make. It’s within the building, then exploding tension between opposing forces.

There are two types of conflict, external and internal. External is obvious, such as lava coursing down the mountainside and setting flame to the town. Internal is less apparent, as might be the feelings of your protagonist when he realizes there is no way to save his business from succumbing to the onslaught of the fiery magma. Further, when dealing with this central clash that swirls about your hero, the successful novel writer will often have a number of lesser conflicts that are birthed due to the premier conflict point. For example, once his livelihood disappears within the flames, his wife leaves him, taking the children with her. (Boy, this guy has had a bad day!)

Regardless the types or amount of conflict, your writing is for naught if you don’t convince your reader to appreciate the power, the importance, of the conflict. They must know and become emotionally involved due to this struggle. As with the family mentioned about, if the readers want the wife to leave, for example, the conflict diminishes, as does your story. (This means the readers need to like your hero, doesn’t it? But that’s for another post.)

To enhance the readers’ interest, insure they see what your hero has to gain and lose. If they never see the flames racing toward the business, or they never learn how unsupportive the wife becomes, their interest will be less than peaked. It’s also helpful if there are negative repercussions to his solving, as well as not solving, the conflict. If your hero must choose between the lesser of evils to resolve the core conflict, you’ll heighten the story even more. For example, would you have greater conflict if your hero watches his business explode in flame knowing his wife will take his children if he loses his business? You bet. There should not be too many conflict points, but regardless their number or how they develop, conflict is at the heart of any novel and must be resolved in one fashion or another. This resolution will make or break your novel. Make sure your conclusion is logical and results from the actions of your hero. It cannot be random or arbitrary.

One last thought about conflict. The guy in the white hat need not always win.

Until we meet again, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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