Finding the Hate–I mean Conflict!

2 Jun

by Kat Zhang

~~~

A little while ago, Biljana wrote a great article on how a writer needs to “Find the Love” in each scene. I totally agree. But maybe because I’m a cynical, sarcastic, loveless little creature :D, I tend to think less about finding the Love and more about finding the Hate.

Or…maybe I should just call it finding the Conflict. That makes me sound like less of a misanthrope, right?

But think about it—conflict is what drives every story. Just about every plot can be boiled down to this essential ingredient. The hero wants something. For whatever reason, he can’t get it–Conflict!

Let’s try out a few:

Harry Potter: boy wants to live normal life (emphasis on live)

Obstacle: Voldemort

Conflict!

Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship wants to destroy the Ring

Obstacle: Sauron has other ideas…

Conflict!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: the Pevensie kids want to all go home safe and sound

Obstacle: the White Witch has Edmund

Conflict!

Twilight: Bella wants to stare at Edward’s perfect chest for all of eternity

Obstacle: Pre-marital sex is a no-no

Contraception!

…just kidding. Kinda.

But you get the point, right? You need to know the central conflict in all your stories, not only because it helps you write, but also because this is exactly what agents want to know when you query. And the larger the conflict, the more gripping the story tends to be. Say the conflict is: man at a drive-through wants sandwich with mayo; deli ran out of mayo.

Unless that man really wants his mayo, there’s not much of a story going there. But make it so that the conflict is: man wants sandwich with mayo because his car just got hijacked and a man’s sitting in the backseat with a gun to his child’s head, hissing—you get me that mayo or else—then we have a story.

Okay, so now that we’ve covered conflict on a macro scale, let’s tackle the micro. Not only should conflict drive your overall plot, it should be the motor behind every scene. Conflict makes things interesting. What holds your attention better, a regular conversation or an argument? Two people standing calmly next to one another, or a fist fight?

Of course, your characters can’t spend every moment of the story screaming their heads off or attacking one another (trust me, I’ve tried), just like how every story can’t be about a life or death situation. Conflict can be more subtle as well. It can even be internal.

Conflict in character relationships is also important. Literary fiction lives off this, but commercial fiction can fall flat without it as well. People simply don’t always get along—their ideas don’t always mesh—their goals are different. Bringing this sort of conflict to the forefront in your stories will give them another layer of authenticity, plus add some excitement!

So to sum everything up: Love may make the world go round, but Conflict does the job just as sound—at least in storyland. Are you stuck writing your current manuscript? Found a dull part while revising? Add a pinch (or a dash—or a whole heaping tablespoon!) of Conflict and watch the gears start turning!

~~~

Kat Zhang is an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. She spends most of her free time either preparing to query HYBRID or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read about her writing process and thoughts at her blog.

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13 Responses to “Finding the Hate–I mean Conflict!”

  1. Julie Eshbaugh June 2, 2010 at 12:24 AM #

    Wow Kat, GREAT post! I was just thinking about this very thing this morning as I was revising. Thanks for pointing out that a dull scene can be made so much more interesting with a dash of CONFLICT! 🙂

    • Kat Zhang June 2, 2010 at 8:30 AM #

      Haha, thanks! After writing this piece, I was all in a cooking mood, lol.

  2. Angela June 2, 2010 at 5:05 AM #

    =D A fellow love cynic!!! ❤

    Great post. I was thinking about conflict today, too. I was going over my CP`s story this morning, and I couldn`t help but think that her novel was amazing because of all the conflict, among other things.

    • Kat Zhang June 2, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

      Isn’t it cool when your Cps have amazing stories? It’s like getting free books, haha. But yes, conflict makes for good action!

  3. Kelly June 2, 2010 at 5:29 AM #

    i LOVE how I can visit this website each day and find a new article in store for me! Definitely cures some of that exam stress 😀

    Safe to say that i LOLed at this part:

    Twilight: Bella wants to stare at Edward’s perfect chest for all of eternity
    Obstacle: Pre-marital sex is a no-no
    Contraception!

    HAHAHA!

    Very insightful post. Conflict really is a major part of reeling in readers’ interests. A story without conflict is like… cake without cream! (if such a cake really exists… XO)

    Thank you for a wonderful post!

    • Kat Zhang June 2, 2010 at 8:33 AM #

      I’m glad you found that part funny, Kelly 😛 I wasn’t sure if I just have a twisted sense of humor or what, lol.

      And cake without cream! :O

  4. Vanessa June 2, 2010 at 8:46 AM #

    Kat, this was such a great article!!! I think the conflict in my story needs some work, so it was great to read this post! And you also made me laugh out loud (which is ALWAYS a plus!) 😀

    • Kat Zhang June 2, 2010 at 8:52 AM #

      Yay, I’m glad you thought it was funny 🙂 And I think I tend to not have enough conflict in my stories as well…I get too caught up on other things. Then when my story starts lagging, I wonder why, lol. But that’s what revising is for!

  5. Myra June 2, 2010 at 4:24 PM #

    You’re SO right about stories lagging because of no conflict! I just realised my WIP was lagging because of lack of conflict… I was bored of my heroine just coasting on through to the end. Really great article, Kat. 😀 This is definitely something I need to keep in mind.

    Also–
    “Twilight: Bella wants to stare at Edward’s perfect chest for all of eternity
    Obstacle: Pre-marital sex is a no-no
    Contraception!”
    Hahaha, YES. >XD Epic.

    • Kat Zhang June 2, 2010 at 4:39 PM #

      Thanks, Myra!

  6. Biljana June 2, 2010 at 5:18 PM #

    Hey nice spin-off! Bilyana approves 😉

    Lol I feel like such a sap now :D.

    • Kat Zhang June 2, 2010 at 5:22 PM #

      XD Nah, you’re not a sap, Billy-ana! 😛

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why a Writer’s Favourite Animal should be a Goat « Let The Words Flow - June 10, 2010

    […] We already talked about tactics in some of our past articles, two of which include Kat’s “Finding the Hate” and Biljana’s “Finding the Love”. Tactics are what’s at the core of the actions your […]

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