Conflict: The Heart and Soul of your Fiction

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.

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About Debbie Mumford

Debbie Mumford specializes in fantasy and paranormal romance. She loves mythology and is especially fond of Celtic and Native American lore. She writes about faeries, dragons, and other fantasy creatures for adults as herself and for tweens and young adults as Deb Logan. Visit debbiemumford.com to learn more about her currently available work.

Posted on October 12, 2011, in about writing, Authors - Debbie Mumford and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. BIG WRITER’S BLOCK. PLEASE LET ME FINISH A STORY THIS SEMESTRAL BREAK PLEASE!!

  2. Well said. Without conflict, there is no story.

  3. I have a friend who writes for the stage and his view is- if these people in the scene aren’t in conflict, why are you showing it to us? That’s meant to be just shy of rhetorical- you CAN have such scenes, in a play or a book, but you need a good reason.

    One other thing I’m thinking about is the SIZE or stakes of the conflict. Another good writer friend showed me an important truth- it doesn’t have to always be about saving the known world (even in epic fantasy, where it’s the case more often than elsewhere). The conflict has to be crucial to your character first and foremost, and if you’ve done a good job establishing that character then the stakes will be entertaining to the reader. A story I’ll write someday called “The Test of Fire” is really about a young new knight, trying to maintain his border against a larger, more powerful neighbor. Not such a big deal- but if I show you Qerlak’s character properly you’ll understand why it’s just a big “flaming” deal to him and you’ll care that he succeeds.

    Great stuff, Deb!

  4. I agree with Will. The conflict doesn’t have to be big in the eyes of the world but it has to be big and meaningful for the character. Only then will I as a reader care about the character’s story.

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