Conflict, conflict, conflict. Just hearing it makes me feel like Marty McFly being called "chicken." Most so-called experts and teachers will try to tell you conflict is everything. Once you write enough, you realize just what it is:

It's a *spoiler* TRAP!

Seriously, some say "conflict is everything." Oh, really? Let's invent time travel and ask the greats that. Seeing people get bitch-slapped by Dickens could become my new favorite hobby. In prose you have important elements: characters, plot, conflict, narrative description, dialogue, and grammar. Do you know what happens when you pursue just 1 element to the determent of all others, such as plot with no real characters?

You shit on a typewriter, call it a day, and laugh your way to the bank.

Stories like that do sell, but note Twilight appeals to pubescent girls and menopausal women, women in the 2 stages of life where hormones overcome any reasoning ability. Seriously, if you enjoyed those "books" please stop reading this blog and go wherever people with 2 digit IQs hang out on the web.

For the rest of us, there's a delicate balance. You have to have solid, fleshed out characters, a cohesive plot, a moral lesson for your readers or characters, a good balance of descriptive narrative and snappy dialogue, and excellent grammar and spelling. What did I leave out? Conflict.

Yes, even I will force you to listen to me drone on about conflict, Mr. Bull!


Conflict is a tool for the writer, not an end product for the reader. Sad how modern use of that idiom "is a tool" makes me giggle like Beavis and Butthead, but it's true. Conflict is a tool. Certain kinds of conflict can inspire your story or character, but most conflict is applied after writing out a synopsis and used for a tool for pacing.

First there are the main types of conflict:

Internal: the character deals with issues inside themselves, such as a moral quandary
External: the character seeks to find harmony or balance between themselves and other character(s) or situations

External has 3 subgroups:

Social: The character struggles to find balance or accord between their values and societal mores
Situational: Same as social, but contained to 1 specific situation
Survival: The character must face internal conflict in the face of external threats or fatality

Now, could you have a story that was nothing but conflict?

 
Yes, but it's been done, and you're never going to top it

The 2 main types are good for helping you to decide your plot. Is your character fraught with internal conflict and thus an anti-hero? Is your antagonist fraught with it and thus can become a good guy in the story or a sequel? What external conflict sets the plot into motion?

Now once you have that, set aside the rest of the conflict. Writing works best in this order (using the example of a novel that will be 70,000-100,000 words):

  1. Make a very general plot, less than 1 page, noting initial external conflict  
  2. Make a list of characters, write notes on any pre-existing internal conflict
  3. Write a full character biography for all principals
  4. Write a 3-5 page synopsis generally describing the full plot
  5. Make notes about the various external conflict the characters will face
  6. Write a 30 page summary, a detailed description of the plot. Use external conflict to pace, and refer to your character bios for internal conflict. Use conflict to pace the story
  7. Use the summary to write the novel

The bonus here is the synopsis and summary are things agents and editors often want to see, so you're going to need them anyway. By looking at the process you can see how conflict is important, but it's not everything. Conflict is a tool for pacing the plot, it is not a substitution for plot or character development.

I once took a job teaching creative writing in Canada, and my then-boss wanted me to teach only one goddamned thing the entire semester: conflict. Seriously...this was a 101 class and she didn't want me teaching grammar, wordsmithing, characterization, plot development, genre and style differences, just conflict. I ended up quitting because the concept of teaching only conflict was so idiotic I thought my head might explode.

In my arguments with her I found writers fell into 2 camps: those that worship conflict as a deity, and those that use conflict like a cheap whore. I'm of the cheap-whore camp m'self. Imagine conflict with nothing else.

Bobby hates Janice. Bobby is pro-choice and Janice is pro-life. Bobby and Janice fight. Janice brings a gun to the clinic where they protest, angering Bobby.

Riveting stuff, eh? It's the basis for a story. See how we did that? External conflict can define the general plot. Flesh it out now with character bios, internal conflict, plot, dialogue and you have potential for a good, terse story.

To know if you're using all the elements correctly, and applying conflict as a tool to further your writing, here's a simple test: look at yourself while writing. If you look like this,


You're doing it right. If you look like this,

 

You're Stephanie Meyer.