IAP010, How To Create Conflict In A Story
So, you’ve recently discovered that your story is lacking conflict. And now you’re wondering: how can I create conflict in a story? And, where can you add more conflict into your story? In the previous podcast episode, we’ve identified these five different types of conflict that are possible within a story. It’s really important that you understand these 5 types of story conflict before you go on to create conflict in a story. So, if you haven’t listened the previous video or read the previous blog post, click here. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at your story and figure out where you can add more conflict. So, let’s get started.
The Global Story
The first option of where you had conflict in your story is your global story. So, what do I mean by the global story? Usually, when people refer to or use the term global story, they’re referring to the main overarching plot of your story. In a longer story, you will have the main storyline. Let’s call this ‘storyline A.’ You will also have a secondary storyline or subplot that eventually joins up to your Storyline A. For now, let’s call this subplot, ‘Storyline B.’ These storylines add more depth complexity to your story.
The first place you want conflict is in the global story. So, the types of conflict that you could add to your global story are as follows:
- Man vs Society
- Man vs Man
- Man vs Supernatural
- Man vs Nature
You don’t necessarily need to have one type of conflict in your global story. I’m going to use my thriller novel Immunity as an example to give you a clear picture of multiple conflicts within a global story. The most obvious conflict in the Storyline A of Immunity is Man vs Society. In the story, the first conflict the reader is introduced to is James Lalonde vs a pharmaceutical Company. The next type of conflict in the global story is Man vs Man. My protagonist, James Lalonde points a metaphorical finger at the person he thinks is responsible for the actions of this company.
Layering Conflict in a Story
There are also other conflicts going on in this story within the various subplots. The most obvious of these conflicts is, James has just moved to New York from Northampton, England. He moved to New York because he was trying to find out the truth behind the death of his mother. James discovers that she was originally a participant of the pharmaceutical trial in question.
While all of this is going on, he secures a role as a journalist for a world renowned newspaper called the Daily Voice. The chief editor of the Daily Voice is Patrick Evans. He’s James’ new boss and one of the most powerful newsmen in this fictional world. So, James has landed a job, and he’s proven to Patrick that he is Daily Voice material. But, he has to keep the job. Patrick Evans is an editor who is passionate about the truth and the integrity of the newspaper. He’s not an easy man to please. A flashy headline and dodgy fact checking will not please this man.
So now we see that James has this huge story and a boss that’s not easily pleased. As a result, Lalonde is forced to prove that his theory is more than a conspiracy. But, the truth supported by tangible evidence; evidence that could stand up in a court of law. In light of all of this, if James spends too much time chasing a story that Patrick feels is a longshot with little evidence to support it, he will be putting his career as a journalist on the line. A man like Patrick will have no problems moving James off features and to the classifieds.
Why Layer Conflict in a Story?
So, these are the layers of conflict that I have in my global story and subplots. All of these elements come together to create conflict and a timeline. This layering of conflict is what creates a conspiracy thriller novel. Even if you’re not writing a thriller, layer conflict can add a sense of tension and drama to your story.
Protagonist vs Antagonist
The second place where you can add more conflict into your story has a lot to do with your global story. And, this element is you Protagonist vs Antagonist relationship. Each of these characters needs to choose a side. Both of these characters need to have their motivations, especially your antagonist.
Don’t make the mistake of creating a two-dimensional Villain. Give your villain reasons for their actions and desires. You need to spend so much time creating your villain to the point where you can understand their motivations, even though their desires are crazy or immoral. This needs to be compelling because if you don’t feel swayed or understand then your reader will not feel it either.
Consider what your protagonist wants as well. They need to have something motivating them to chase after their goal. Think about what you’re doing right now. You’re reading this blog post because you desire to write a fiction novel. There is something whether you realise it or not that is compelling you to chase this dream. You have your definition of success which is helping you to learn the writing craft, create a writing habit, and keep writing. The hero and villain of your story need to have things motivating them in a similar way that you do.
Create Flawed Characters
Think about the personality traits of these two characters. Which personality traits will help them achieve their goals? Which personality traits will hold them back or derail their success? This is especially true of your hero. Obviously, your villain is flawed, enough said. But, your protagonist needs to be flawed as well. I’m not saying to create an anti-hero or someone with a deep and disturbing dark past, that’s a tad cliche. Give your characters flaws that cause them to make mistakes, to fail, because this is a part of the human experience we all can relate too. I’ll show you what I mean by a flawed character.
My series protagonist, James Lalonde is overconfident. He is French, and there is a certain stereotype about Frenchmen being a little arrogant, and it’s surprisingly true, but not always. And, he’s a huge risk taker. He’s the type of person that would jump into a pool and not check the water level first. These two traits, confidence and taking risks are great traits to have, but these traits are not good in excess. Bad habits and flaws can often be the things that stop you from getting what you want in life. These things tend to lead to making poor decisions at the moment.
So, think about the motivations of your protagonist and antagonist. I know I’ve mentioned this in previous blog posts, but I do believe it’s worth repeating here again. Spend time creating and developing these characters in more than one sitting. Give your characters layers of complexity and make them as real as you possibly can. Think about the people you have in your life. Consider their actions, motivations and how they interact with other people. Especially if you know people who seem to clash, those people who cannot seem to appreciate each other on any level. Use this as inspiration for this protagonist vs antagonist relationship.
On a side note, if you’re creating a series you need to give your protagonist a flaw they never quite overcome. This will save you from creating a new flaw for each book.
The third place where you can add more conflict to your story is with your supporting characters. Obviously, you have your main characters in your novel, and these characters shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. They have our minor character in their lives.
So look at these supporting characters and give each one of them a motivation, just like in real life. Everyone around you has a motivation, whether it concerns you or the other things they have in their lives. I don’t mean a this to sound like an ‘evil ulterior motive.’ For instance, when I decided to move from Brisbane to Melbourne and then to London, my family weren’t too thrilled. They loved me and wanted me to stay close to them. That’s an example of a motivation. And, this motivation is in conflict with my desire to move to Melbourne and London. They didn’t stop me and were supportive to a certain extent but, I could tell they weren’t as into the move as I was. When you create your supporting characters consider their motivations and these motivations will not be in sync with the goals of your protagonist.
For instance, in my novel Immunity, James is partnered with an award winning journalist, Sophie Baker. Right from the start Sophie makes a blanket assumption about his story and thinks it’s a waste of her time. She believes that at best his story is a work of fiction. And, Sophie also wants to be the first person to interview a notoriously media-shy billionaire, who James believes is behind everything that is happening with the pharmaceutical trials. Sophie thinks this is crazy because she needs to be seen to support the billionaire to get a better chance of securing the interview. This interview is something Sophie wants to check off a list of things she wants to achieve within the lifespan of her career. In no way does she think the interview will get her a Pulitzer Prize, but it’s a goal she wants to achieve.
Conflicting Motivations Create a Better Story
These conflicting motivations can help you create a better story and can help make your protagonist a better person. This is especially true of the relationship between James and Sophie. Because Sophie thinks James’ story is a waste of time, she is always challenging his evidence. They argue a lot and James sees her as a constant source of pain. But, she’s unknowingly helping him to become a better journalist and create a better case against the pharmaceutical company. He is completely unaware of this benefit. Sophie and James are almost like sandpaper rubbing up against a rough surface.
But not all conflicting character motivations will be beneficial to your protagonist. Some supporting characters may never change sides and relentlessly pursue their goals. An example of this is, Patrick Evans. As I shared earlier, his main motivation is to edit stories that come together to create a newspaper that sells more copies than the last edition. He only wants the best stuff on the front page. Patrick is not going to put Lalonde’s story on the front page because that what James wants. The story will only be featured if it helps Patrick reach his goals as editor. Patrick is prepared to give the spot to whoever has a story that meets that criteria. He has a reputation to protect as an editor. And, he has a deeper underlying motivation. Patrick wants the Daily Voice to be a beacon of light in a media industry that sells newspapers that are full of articles that are a spin on the truth and support the point of view of the owners and investors.
So now we know that Patrick’s motivations are at odds with James desire to bring a pharmaceutical giant to justice. Patrick is not going to yield unless James finds substantial evidence to support his conspiracy theory.
Is your story lacking conflict? I want you to take a few moments to go over your story and consider the places where everything seems to be smooth sailing for your protagonist. Brainstorm ideas as what obstacles could get in the way.
And, take a look at your supporting characters. Are they too supportive of your protagonist’s goal? Are they all for your protagonist’s goal without having to go to extreme lengths to win them to their side? Don’t just have your supporting characters as filler content. Make sure they have their unique motivations and reasons for wanting to achieve their goals. So they seem compelling and add depth to the world you’re trying to create.
If so, get clear on the motivations for these characters and make sure this is evident in your story. And most importantly, make sure your antagonist has a very compelling reason to oppose your protagonist. Spend time developing your antagonist because the stronger the antagonist you create, the more conflict will naturally occur in your story. Make sure your protagonist isn’t a two-dimensional bad guy who is evil for the sake of it and not believable.
So, are you struggling to create conflict in your story? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing your thoughts and experiences with creating conflict in the comments section below.
Thank you for listening, reading, commenting and sharing with such enthusiasm.
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