“Like a hunter peering into the leafy dusk, your imagination will never spot its quarry until it moves”
Understanding How Conflict Occurs in Fiction Characters is a key element to the success of your novel. A novel can go nowhere without a dynamic character who is constantly at odds with other characters.
Why Change in a Story is important
What keeps a reader reading? A plot that moves along and a character who makes decisions is an interesting character. If nothing happens in your story or you feel that you don’t know what happens next it’s probably because you aren’t writing with conflict at heart. A conflict will create a situation where a character is forced to make a decision about how to deal with conflict. Normally, if the character is anybody worth reading, he or she will make an active decision to combat the problem and move on. A little like we do in life.
If the character is faced with decision to make and takes the easy way out, like people do in life, then the story is headed to boredom because your character is avoiding the very thing that makes the story worth reading – conflict.
When we write, we write about conflicts, problems and adversity that will cause the story to escalate and become thrilling or dramatic. Not everything has to be a thrill, drama is good too. Drama gives an odious situation life and thought. That can be enough if your story is about romance. Drama gives us a place to seek out conflict and exploit it for our story.
How Change Occurs in your Story
Change is the birth of a conflict. Why? When something changes it means that everything has to adjust and in a story that means other characters will also adjust to the event of change. Not everybody will be happy with it and through protest and reorganising their position, and making it clear to your protagonist that they don’t agree, they will create conflict.
If the change is caused by another character and your protagonist adjusts to it in a way that shows he or she doesn’t want to create waves or make a big thing out of it, then you are avoiding the opportunity to put the character in a difficult situation that could turn out exciting and enjoyable for the reader.
The character must be active in their decision making process. This is root cause of conflict and difficulty for the character and its what makes the story interesting and also drives a plot along.
Plot is driven by nothing less than the characters. Their conflicts and decisions about how to deal with those conflicts creates plot. Trying to think about your story without delving deep into character personality is like trying to build a business plan but not have the money to make it go somewhere. It’s dead before the start.
Why do characters change due to conflict
Every character must go through a change. The personality of your protagonist or antagonist will be tested by the events in the story and this will cause a change of attitude and reveal to the reader and the character personality traits and strengths and weaknesses that they didn’t know where there at the beginning of the story. the character arc is the description of the path that a character follows which then changes him or her to become worthy of the task of standing up to the final conflict.
Your conflicts, that you invent and steal and dream up, drive your story to its limits. These conflicts should take a character through a series of events that require ever increasing courage and determination to deal with. Then the point of final conflict comes when your reader is convinced that you have written the main character into a terrible situation where it is impossible for them to escape or free themselves. That’s thrilling, and if it’s done well your readers will buy your next book.
As readers we need to identify with the characters in a book, normally the protagonist. This identifying with them allows us to live a dangerous or interesting life that is normally denied us in reality. We can be gangsters who run an operation that is so daring and perilous that we nearly die. We can be a great lover or adventurer and enjoy the delights of dream relationships and climb the hills of Africa and discover the secrets of its valleys and jungles.
We are lucky that we can avoid the conflict for a while when we just close the book until the next reading. It allows us to experience life as we imagine it should be, to go into worlds of our dreams and return unscathed. Everybody has these sentiments of a better life, a different life. As writers we offer the reader those worlds.
Our characters do what we can’t – deal with conflicts of such immense proportion that it would be a lifetime event for us if it happened in reality. These conflicts represent the ideals that we hold and value in our everyday lives. Our characters live them out for us to the full extent. The gangster who overcomes his enemy could really be Hercules overcoming the monster. Hercules understood that the true monster was himself, his deeper uncontrollable desires that he needed to overcome and master in order to be whole.
The conflicts that a character encounters represent our daily conflicts in a symbolic way, so we enjoy reading about how they deal with them. But for our story to be good and for it to be of value to the reader, we must allow the characters to complete their journey through what is essentially a lifetime.
A lifetime is the story of a character from start to finish. It may appear to start and finish in three days, but it represents the path of a lifetime to the readers unconscious.
Your character must in some way experience the normal arc that represents the life of a character. The life being the arc of events and character change that creates a story. It is through this and because of this that events and conflicts make sense and and can come to a final solution in the climax.
Internal Conflict and External Conflict
To make things even more interesting we can go deeper and take a look into the psyche of our character and find character traits that exist already. We must ask ourselves where these character traits come from and also ask if it is an internal conflict situation or is it an external conflict.
External conflict will be directly linked with your story. Somebody, another character, will be creating this conflict and your character will have to deal with it through action and confrontation. This is often the case in action books and films. Think Stallone and Schwarzenegger films where the problems they deal with can often be sorted by the use of gun or a bigger gun. External conflict doesn’t have to mean that you make your character use a gun or her fists to solve things, it can be much more subtle to think hard and come up with a solution that would fit in with reality.
Internal conflicts are the things that all of us carry around with us throughout life. They create problems that repeat themselves and persist. They are a great source of income for therapists and advice givers.
Your character will definitely have a childhood and that means that they grew up without understanding things about their parents and siblings. They hated their lazy teachers and they probably have unresolved questions about the kind old lady who lived two doors down when they where a child. Now, as an adult, they carry these thoughts around with them and they don’t know why they are important but the thoughts are always there, nagging away at the brain and causing conflicting ideas about daily life.
The internal dialogues that are very private and never shared create conflicts. These conflicts cause problems in relationships with everybody.
Your character will have these problems and although he is a terribly cold gangster or a tough steel worker who doesn’t have much time for thinking and debating about life, he doesn’t know why he has a soft spot for the old lady who walks her dog past his house everyday. She reminds him of his childhood and he responds to that memory. His problem, of course, is that the old lady thinks he is the most unfriendly, despicable ogre that ever moved into her street.