Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of conflict. The fact is, conflict drives a good plot, and without it, your story has no muscle.
In her book Outlining Your Novel, K.M. Weiland identifies five different types of conflict that you can write into your novel. These are as follows: personality conflicts; unexpected situations; “high stakes”; inner battles; and outer battles.
Personality conflicts, of course, consist not just of the classic struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist, but also all the minor personality conflicts that can ensue along the way. And minor conflicts your protagonist should have in spades – even with those of your characters who seem to be on your main character’s side. If you want your readers to root for your hero, no better way to make that happen than by pitching what seems to be the whole world against him.
Unexpected situations are just that and open the door to new situations for your main character. Perhaps, like Arthur Dent, your protagonist just goes down the pub to have a pint with his friend, only to be whisked away on an intergalactic quest. How could his horoscope have predicted that? Think of the most unpredictable outcome possible for the most mundane of situations – and write it into your plot as a startling twist.
What about high stakes? Weiland explains that when high stakes are involved, a task that otherwise would be doable becomes nothing short of heroism. Suppose, for example, that your hero must simply deliver a mysterious load of cargo to Epsilon Eridani. Easy enough for your dashing, young captain – until he discovers that his cargo is actually the cryogenically frozen Princess Malaguena of the Galeron tribe, and the fate of the entire star system depends on her successful delivery. Your young captain might sweat a bit now, but no reason to stop there – now an entire gang of reivers is after him, determined to kill him, capture Malaguena, and bring about interstellar war. High stakes indeed!
Finally, consider inner and outer battles. Of course, outer battles are easy to plot. Fight through the enemy, scale the castle walls, and behead the evil Lord Ulmar. Those conflicts are a dime a dozen. What’s more intriguing is the inner conflict taking place within the hero or heroine. Suppose the heroine is torn between her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to what she believes is right? Suppose she knows her father is a monster, but she still cannot convince herself to betray him? How strong are blood ties? There you have inner conflict.
All of these kinds of conflict can be present in varying degrees in your work of fiction, and all of them invest readers in the outcome. Nothing is more boring than a novel in which everybody gets along; amp up the conflict, and put muscle in your story.