No story can survive without conflict. No one wants to read about people who never have any problems. Problems are exciting. They are fun. They make things interesting. (Maybe not so much in real life, but they definitely do in fiction.)
So today we’re going to look at the effective use of conflict. The purpose of conflict is to provide an obstacle to the thing your character wants most.
There are many kinds of conflict that can arise. You can throw in a lot of horrible things to delay the character from getting what they want, but I suggest focusing on one or two major things that is stopping the character from getting his happy ending. If you throw in too many things, then you end up with a lot of side issues that have nothing to do with the actual plot. So I suggest picking the biggest source of conflict and focusing on that. That way the reader is focused in on that particular issue and will be more engaged with the character’s journey.
What would be a good rule of thumb for picking a source of conflict? I suggest looking at the character’s personality and their goal. Not all conflicts are created equal. The conflict in question has to be something that will have the biggest impact on the character you’re writing. It has to provide a huge enough obstacle that the character has to struggle to overcome it.
For example, let’s say you have a character who had an awesome childhood where she was readily accepted by her family and friends. Then in your story, this woman is put in a situation where people are snickering at her. Given her background, this isn’t a huge source of conflict. She has no past demons to struggle with. However, if you put in a character who grew up in a home where she never felt accepted and didn’t have any friends, then putting her in a room where people are snickering at her will be a whole lot different. And that difference will provide the greatest impact on the character and her story.
That’s the aim in writing the character’s story. You have to take that character’s personality and background into consideration when picking the conflict. When tapping into the emotionally engaging character, everything is built around the character, including the conflict. You don’t build your character around the conflict. The difference in the two approaches is subtle, but it’s there. And I believe focusing on the character and making everything in the story revolve around that character will make for a better story than doing it the other way around.
Whether or not the character succeeds all depends on the storyline, but I can tell you with romance, the character is going to have to succeed for the reader to be happy. If you’re doing a thriller or horror story, then you get away with a sad ending. In other words, the character didn’t get what they most wanted. Or maybe the character does get it but at the expense of something equally important to him.