Conflict and How to Build it
A story is a series of Scenes which express conflict. This is what makes a story interesting, it moves the story along and causes the reader to want more and keep turning the pages.
What makes a scene interesting?
How the characters deal with that conflict
How the characters act, feel and think after the conflict has been resolved.
How do you achieve the element of conflict?
You have your story idea, your characters and you should know what your characters want – all of them. Some of them want small things but your main characters should want something big, worthwhile fighting for.
Character wants something that he or she believes in so much that they will fight for it; that’s the basis of a motivation that will lead to conflict.
If a character wants to build a business empire but has no money, they might take a risk to get that money. The opportunity to exploit that need as a story-teller is enormous. They may think that borrowing money from the Mob will solve their money problems, they may decide that they have to go on an adventure to find a lost treasure that will give them the money. Either way, this all leads to conflict.
Writing a good scene is about breaking those desires down. Examining how each character action is driving towards the achievement of the goal – money for a business.
If your character hears about a lost treasure out in the desert and they decide to go and find it, then they are on a journey which will change them. The scenes in the journey must all be relative to the goal of finding treasure, and always remembering the importance of the final goal of building a business empire.
The character who ventures into the desert to find a treasure can?t suddenly turn back and decide on a different option; characters that are interesting tend to be decisive people who do what they say they will do. That means that they will encounter conflicts that have to be faced up to.
1.The Goal is to cross a harsh terrain and take the prize.
2. This causes an immediate Conflict. The desert is hot, there’s not much water and they can only carry so much food. There are other people after the treasure, too.
3. The elements involved are a mixture of human and natural/environment. This will create Disaster.
Well prepared the characters set out into the desert. They expect to reach the treasure in three days. On the first day, they encounter local tribesmen, these people are suspicious of the travellers and their objectives. They follow them, they have a fight. The tribesmen gallop away on horseback. Then your characters discover that during the fight several water canisters were damaged and the water is leaking into the sand.
It’s too far to go back and to go forwards is now dangerous; they must go on and hope that they will discover an oasis on the way.
After two days they have nearly drunk all of the water; Disaster looms. What will they do?
At the this point, you have reached a full scene. There was a goal, setting out to find something, Conflict of being attacked and having to fight the local tribesmen and then Disaster of having their water supplies depleted.
It’s a scene that could be written on one page or over two or three pages or more; that would depend on your book structure and rhythm of the whole book.
Of course, you can see that your character would never give up, they are tough and persistent in their search for fortune. That means that they will encounter many more conflicts that you will structure and write as a scene. Goal, Conflict and Disaster.
Goal – What is a Goal in terms of Fiction Writing?
A goal can be anything that your character wants. It must be obtainable.
At first, the inkling that a character has to obtain a goal may be tinged with feelings of doubt,”is it worth it?” – “is it possible?” etc, questions will enter the characters head. There must be a moment when we and the character know that the goal is the right thing to strive for, otherwise the reader will be confused by the narrative or not be too interested in what’s happening.
So, make it clear that the goal is important to reach in order to obtain the final objective.
Conflicts come in all shapes and sizes. Without conflict life gets boring.
Have you ever noticed how in your own life that whenever you set a goal and start working on it, you encounter problems? There’s your conflict. Problems, opposition to your will.
Piling up the conflict is a good idea – just make sure that you are being relevant, no big Jumps out of storyline, to keep the narrative tight and on track with the line of story.
A scene can be memorable when you get it right with conflict. The goal and the conflict must weigh up together, though. If the conflict is outweighing the goal then the reader will soon start making ‘tut-tut’ sounds and lose faith in the story.
Tough Characters make fun Reading
When the character heads across the desert to reach the place where he believes there is a hidden treasure, he must have a darn good reason for it. To cross a desert, get into a fight, lose your water rations and then decide to go on takes a lot of mettle. The drive to do that comes from deeper character, which you have already shown your readers through earlier action. Your character is up to the task and for the reader it’s what they would expect from the character that you’ve so far drawn.
As the character continues the dangerous journey and the search for water creates a deepening conflict, you can pile on the problems. He or she may start to stumble about, imagine stupid things like visions of a café with bottles of water stacked up. She might meet a snake while crossing a pile of rocks, the snake attacks her but she manages to avoid the bite by jumping across a crag of rocks. There she discovers a pool of water. This the resolution to her problems.
Saved by the water and no longer having to deal with the disaster of having her water carriers shot to pieces in a fight, she has water. Her head clears and she sees that the problem of the snake is just a few rocks away – in the form of a tasty and protein filled meal. She now has another problem. She really is hungry after all that fighting and traipsing through the desert, so she must have her snake and eat it. It will give her the energy to reach the bigger goal of finding the treasure.
Resolutions form a moment to Breathe.
At this point, you can see how your original scene of goal-conflict-disaster then quickly transformed into a small in-betweeny scene of resolution. The resolution to thirst and hunger came in the form of conflict with a snake. The big goal to get money by finding treasure and then start building an empire back home is yet to be achieved. So this moment of pleasure when she overcomes the water and snake conflict in the desert is only to last a moment or two – or a sentence or two. It’s nothing to dwell on. Your reader still has a lot of questions about the bigger stuff.
The bigger stuff can be anything that connects problem wise to the goal of finding the treasure then getting back home to build the empire.
How many conflict and disasters would one have while crossing a desert?
Quit a few, I think.
But don’t forget to keep the story moving and save a juicy, one-hell-of-a Conflict for the moment before the treasure is found and kept. The keeping is the end of the desert part of the story, and probably your whole narrative. Building an empire business is another story , for sure.
Have you ever seen one of those made for TV movies where it starts well, the protagonist gets dragged into some terrible situation by mistake and then has to fight her way out? You sit back with your fizzy drink and popcorn hoping for a fun adventure of high-jinks in the city.
Then, it turns. The Protagonist is on the run, she’s got the whole world on her heels and doesn’t quite know what to do to get out of Dodge.
Everything she tries fails and so she’s dragged deeper into a quagmire of conflicts and problems. You keep watching, but man, it goes on, and on. The problem is that the writers thought it would be cool, and easy, to write the Middle of the story as a long drawn out marathon of problem after problem, skipping any moments of resolution or breathing space for the viewer to stay involved; such as, believe in the character, root for the character and hope that the character would do this and that obvious thing to get out of her conflicting situation.
Each scene is like a whole story in a nutshell.
A trigger creates interest, the character takes a look and gets dragged into a scene that they would rather avoid. The are forced to deal with the horrors of being trapped or chased by somebody. They try everything and after a while they find a solution and free themselves from the major conflict. That could be a description of a scene or a complete story. It is the same.
The scene is a mini story that motivates a major conflict. One scene after another will make your story whole.
So you can see that each scene must have deeper meaning and be very relevant to the major conflict of getting, finding or freeing something from something.
So naturally, the mini conflicts of scene must reflect the bigger problem by making it look like the protagonist will never achieve their goal. When they do overcome the small but powerful conflict in a scene, the reader will be thrilled at the ingenuity of the story and immediately be looking forward to the next conflict that should begin after the character has had a drink of water and a smoke before moving on.
To come up with a great idea for a book is one thing, but to build that idea step for step, scene for scene, is the skill of the writer that ensures the whole story will become coherent and enjoyable for the reader.