Conflict is crucial. It is what drives our stories along, keeps readers turning pages. All conflict isn’t equal though, and as writers we should want to put the best we can into our novels.
But what is high-quality conflict? And how do we imbue our novels with it?
To understand high-quality conflict, we must first know its opposite.
Low-quality conflict is gentle and sweet, pausing when the character winces and then it offers the character a hand to help them stand up. (LAME!)
In utter contradiction, high-quality conflict knows all of our characters weak spots and enjoys sucker punching them. The problems always effect the character, ripping into them and shoving them down. It doesn’t slow down or lessen up once the characters start to struggle, it ups the ante. High quality writing is akin to a blazing fire, and your character is impure silver. They’ll be put through hell, yeah, but they will come out of it better.
How do we toss this bully of a writing element into our writing?
Like so. Imagine your stakes, or what your character has to lose if they fail to resolve the conflict, as little wooden pegs placed in the middle of a vertical series of holes. They’re within easy reach of your character. YOU MUST FIX THIS!
There are two fairly foolproof ways to make those stakes “unattainable”. They work exceptionally well in tandem:
- Raise them. Pull them out of the mediocre middle and stick them into a higher hole, one out of your character’s reach. Then do it again. And again. And again, ’cause it’s fun watching them struggle.
You do this by sing outside forces, such as the villain, natural disasters, politics, whatever to make your character’s job harder.
- Because writing requires a vaguely sadistic nature, (jk…kinda), knock your character down. Hand them a shovel and force them to dig a hole, until the bottom of our series of holes is a good foot above their head.
This is achieved by having your character create complications. They do this by succumbing to or developing mental blocks/fears. Or they can push away allies, stab friends in the back, basically screw up.
High-quality conflict is always comprised of internal and external issues. Use it like a double-edged sword to cut your character to pieces. It is not merely hacking about aimlessly, though, it is trimming away rotten, below-average aspects of your character.
Remember: The main character (and side characters) should not make it through the story unscathed; they should be cracked and chipped, broken and bruised, but stronger and wiser.