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)
Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship wants to destroy the Ring
Obstacle: Sauron has other ideas…
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: the Pevensie kids want to all go home safe and sound
Obstacle: the White Witch has Edmund
Twilight: Bella wants to stare at Edward’s perfect chest for all of eternity
Obstacle: Pre-marital sex is a no-no
…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.