Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Write Conflict into Your Novel

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by. C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this Article.

Welcome back, my friends. It’s nice to see you again.

Conflict is critical to any good story. In fact, it makes your story worth reading and is the key component that weaves all the elements of your novel together.

The secret to CONFLICT is found when tension builds between two opposing forces then explodes. To translate that to your characters, conflict rests within the moral choices they make when placed in unusual situations.

Think of it this way. A daughter tells her father a lie, but the father could not care less. Where is the excitement? Where is the energy? Where is the conflict? The conflict is found within the father’s reaction to the lie, not within the lie itself. Now imagine this scene if the father gets angry about it and slaps his daughter. The lie builds the tension and the slap explodes it. All of a sudden, we’ve got a much more interesting event, don’t we?

Now for some general tips on how to write conflict into your novel.

Conflict begins and ends with desire. In your storyline, have your hero want something or someone he can’t have unless he completes some great struggle.

Too much conflict, or too little, will distance your reader. This is a delicate balance to achieve, but you can’t bore your reader with too little conflict or exhaust him with too much.

Two major points of conflict will most often carry your novel. One internal and one external conflict point is all you need. For example, a hero’s lack of confidence might be the internal conflict, whereas his need to save the girl from the dastardly Dr. Dowrong might exemplify the external conflict.

Use conflict to vary the pace of your novel. Think of a graph where you have an upward trending line that looks like a mountain range that always grows to the right. Can you see those peaks and valleys? That line represents the pace of your novel and the peaks represent your major conflict points or those times of greatest conflict. You get a peak at every serious point of conflict and a valley whenever your hero solves that specific issue. He then faces another peak and so on until he reaches his major confrontation with the big bad wolf.

Every CHAPTER in your novel should have someone wanting something. To say this another way, every chapter requires conflict. This may be as simple as a young girl who wishes her mother would allow her to walk to school, to the reactions of your hero as he is thrust into battle.

The essence of growing conflict, and thus tension, is choice. Your HERO must be forced to make choices to keep him moving forward on his quest. If you also offer your protagonist conflicting alternatives, it keeps your tension at a higher plane.

Your conflict must have a final goal in mind and that goal is most often the growth of your hero. This evolution can be emotional, physical or any other “-al” you wish, but the purpose of all this running around is to, in the end, have your protagonist come out a better person.

End each chapter of your novel with a cliffhanger, or conflict that is about to peak. This need not be as grand as your hero’s pending death, but leave a question in the readers’ mind. They’ll want to know more.

Fear intensifies conflict. Your hero must face his fears, so include fright at judicious points within your manuscript.

Use DIALOGUE as a major tool to build your conflict. If used effectively, dialogue increases the emotion, the tension and tragedy.

Are there any aspects to conflict about which you’d like to hear more?

Until my next post, you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. Just now finding this post - as a creative writing instructor I found your information spot on. Great job, I'll be seeking you out again.

  2. I'm a new writer. As I was searching 'conflict in writing' on the internet I found your blog. Thanks so much for making it simple!