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Mother Hen's December 2006 Column

Conflict: I have no anger in me!


No, not conflict of interest…not conflict within your being…but conflict found in a story.


And what exactly is conflict in a story? Simple…a problem/obstacle your main character needs to overcome by the end of the story. Think of it as your engine that drives your car forward. Without one your car remains idle, collecting dust in the driveway. Give your car a super booster engine and you’ll be coasting the streets with no worries.


In a story, your conflict moves your character through various situations he must overcome. This intrigues and pulls your reader deeper into the story, connecting with your character’s plight.


Before writing your story and making up your character profile, ask yourself these questions:


1-     What will be the main goal my character will face and need to overcome?

2-     Who will be my target audience?


The second question is important because it will help to focus your words and subject matter to suit the appropriate audience.




Here are some examples of conflicts in some books:


-         the almighty tried and successful ‘good against evil’

Think Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs…yes, these fairy tales were using the ‘good against evil’ method if you sit down and think about it. The wolves in both fairy tales were intent on overcoming their ‘so-they-thought’ weaker counterparts.


In the above examples, something stood in the protagonist’s way:


Harry tries to defeat Voldemort but problems and other antagonists along the way makes this quest difficult for him.


The Lord of the Rings finds Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring but evil and dark forces stand in his way, too.


Luke Skywalker in Star Wars needs to defeat the new order of evil, and he, too, faces many obstacles and characters along the way.


In each of these examples, these obstacles (new smaller conflicts against the bigger goal they are after) causes a reader to continue reading to find out if he’ll be successful, how he will outsmart them, and what change, if any, will this cause in the main character.

Along with these obstacles, throwing in some inner conflicts alongside the outer emotions helps to cast them more as three-dimensional beings, for example:


Luke Skywalker deals with the knowledge he has a sister somewhere out there. His inner being and emotions help to make him more sympathetic, which eventually bonds the reader to him. The same with Frodo; his world has been thrown for a loop when he takes on the quest of the Ring…along the way he begins to doubt if he, indeed, is the best man for this job. Also, he questions his will power to avoid succumbing to the dark forces once he has tasted the Ring’s power.


Another example to show you what ‘inner conflict’ means:


Let’s assume your book is based on a police officer who mistakenly shoots a young child while pursuing a suspect. It’s dark in the building and the kid jumped out of no where with a toy gun. The police officer is suspended while the case is being investigated.




How he deals and is dealt by his immediate peers

His struggle to remove the visions of the killing

The emotional turmoil as he waits for the investigation to conclude.

His dealings with the parents of the child he accidentally killed.


Throughout all of these emotions the one factor that will bind your reader to continue will be: How will he fare at the end of this book. The way you first portray this particular character in the beginning will be totally different by the end because of the various upsets he’s had to deal with. Show him as upbeat, nonchalant, no change at the end and you will lose your reader’s interest in the book and in you as an author.


Think of real life: if you had to go through a trauma as the officer in the example above, how would it change you? A writer needs to wear his character’s shoes and get inside his head to fully understand him. Write a story with a stick person and you get stale material. Write a story with powerful emotions and you have one interesting read.




By the end of your book all inner and outer conflicts need to have reached a conclusion. Whether your character overcame or failed is not as important as making sure he tried to meet them head on. You cannot place a conflict (or foreshadow) without making sure by the end of the story some sort of a resolution was made. This is cheating a reader and they WILL notice, especially if one of those conflicts was the one he’s been hoping to see the outcome to.




What I’d like you to do for this exercise is come up with some interesting conflicts for a story. Come up with a one sentence conflict then send it on down to me at:


Place MOTHER HEN’S BIN EXERCISE on the subject heading with your name, email address, one short paragraph bio and link back to you. I’ll make sure to place them in an upcoming issue of The Muse Marquee and The Muse Unleashed.


Lea Schizas