I’ve mentioned conflict twice now in the past few days as it relates to my story and thought it would be a good thing to discuss. As I’ve already mentioned, conflict is the second concern for my manuscript and there are a few reasons why. Conflict is essential to a story. It doesn’t matter what the conflict is, just so long as it’s there and it works. I want to say it’s like a seasoning but one; I’ve already used that analogy and two; it is way, way more important than that. Done correctly conflict doesn’t add to the story, it is the story. Done wrong your story isn’t just bland, there’s nothing there.
Why wouldn’t it work? There are several reasons and they’re going to be unique to each type of story. The main conflict my character sees is the environment around him which presents a very man vs. nature type of thing. There are also a couple of people who come up that play antagonist to him. Two of the main issues I am facing is making the danger seem real to my character and resolving the situation too quickly. I want to go into a little more detail with these issues I’m seeing and what I’m doing to correct them.
First, the issue of real danger. There is the temptation to make your character overpowered. For my story there is actually a reason in the plot that his abilities are subpar, a bit of a magical disability if you will, yet he continuously saves the day. To a certain extent, I wanted that. I wanted him to be a character who was used to working with this disability, who was used to being the underdog, and who fought even harder as a result. He has a history of being successful and I wanted that to come through. But here I have a character who makes the reader wonder why this was a question at all. I make a big deal of people arguing against his selecting to lead this expedition yet moment after moment he proves them wrong. There need to be consequences in a story and if every been of conflict is brushed aside, than when that next danger comes up your reader won’t be worried about it.
I once read an interview with George R. R. Martin where he said that he wanted the reader to be terrified to turn the page. It’s why I thought it was so funny when everyone was up in arms about Ned dying in the TV show. That isn’t even a part of the iceberg let alone the tip. I don’t want to take my story to that extent, but he is a fine example of building tension and conflict. Even (or especially) when things are going well for a character, I am on guard for all hell to break loose. I haven’t gotten through a single book without a character I loved being betrayed, tortured, maimed, or murdered. And a lot of the times it was all the above and it happened in the breadth of a single page.
The other thing is a tendency to resolve issues too quickly. I have several parts in the story where Something Monstrous happens and generally they’re all all one time events, they get away, kill it, etc and move on. The only overarching story plot is this journey and I have very little tension between the other people. I either liked them too much to make my character hate them or I forgot about them. Both of those are glaring mistakes that I will correct. This plays into the above issue because as each obstacle pops up it’s put down just as quickly. I want to broaden the events and give them a more dynamic impact to the overall story. I don’t want this to be a collection of scenes that are connected by my narrator, I want it to be a story that runs together.
There are dozens of other issues that one can run into with conflict, these are just the two that (I know of) I am struggling with.