Conflict: The Heart and Soul of your Fiction
Posted by Debbie Mumford
I’m currently reading Kay Kenyon’s Bright of the Sky, and it reminded me of an excellent article I read in one of her newsletters a while back. Kay was discussing conflict — one of my toughest stumbling blocks when I first began to write.
I wanted to imagine my own worlds, and I wanted them to be perfect. Consequently, I avoided conflict. As one critique partner put it, I wrote nice stories about nice people who had nice things happen to them. In short, my stories were nice, which quickly translated to boring.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t write stories about nice people or that you can’t have happy endings, but conflict is a necessity. Your characters have to struggle. They need to earn that happy ending.
Let me quote Kay’s excellent article:
If you’re ambivalent about conflict, let me urge you: get over it! Without tension and conflict a story is boring and your readers will abandon it. Without a collision of wills, your characters will appear flat.This is one of the most intriguing intersections in fiction: the outer drama of conflict reveals deep character. Conversely, it is character that makes action meaningful: why does she do what she does? How will he find the understanding or strength to do what is needed? Don’t create a cardboard hero, then, who is pure at the beginning and remains so. Rather, make her a compelling personality who is not yet wise enough to overcome opposition. But who will be.
I love the last part of that quote. I don’t want a cardboard hero who is pure at the beginning and remains so. I want a compelling personality who is not yet wise enough to overcome the conflict I’m going to throw in her path, but who will grow and learn and ultimately make wise choices.
I think that’s one of the reasons readers read … to be reassured that if my character can grow in wisdom and learn to make the tough choices, so can they.
Give your readers what they want. Show them that opposition can be overcome, that nice people can become better and that conflict can be faced with dignity and grace.
Onward and upward.