Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ten Tips for Conflict

By Jax Hunter

This month’s tips - conflict, baby. Without conflict you got nuttin, I’m tellin’ ya, nuttin. Ya hear me?

Whoops, I must have been channeling again. Sorry. But what my gangster buddy said was true. Without conflict in a story, you are left with random movements of people with no real meaning. Joe needs money so he buys a lottery ticket and wins. End of story. Bo-oh-oh-ring. Here are a few things to consider.

1. First of all what conflict is not - conflict is not bickering. It’s not “I did not,” “Yes, you did,” “No, I didn’t.” It’s also not crashing cars or blowing things up. So what is conflict? The dictionary conveys the idea that conflict is a struggle between opposing forces or ideas for supremacy or an outright win.

2. For our purposes as fiction writers, there are three kinds of conflict: internal, personal and universal/societal. Inner conflict is that battle we face within ourselves when two or more of the things we value get in each other’s way. For example, when honesty and loyalty clash and we are forced to lie to protect a friend. That’s internal conflict.

Personal conflict is the conflict that happens between two people. It happens when people want to stop us from getting what we want. Imagine for a moment that you are a twenty-something boy who is in a dead-end job and you want to do something that counts for something. Let’s say you think that joining the Army is that something. Maybe your girlfriend doesn’t want you to go so she purposely gets pregnant. Conflict? You bet. And mean, too. But what if your boss wants to keep you in that dead-end job and gives you a substantial raise. That’s not mean, but is it conflict? Yes, it is. It creates an obstacle between what you have now and what you really want.

Universal/societal conflict is the bigger, more impersonal sort; an asteroid is headed toward earth, or maybe a very big snow storm. Or a terrorist is headed your way.

3. Conflict is created when expectation doesn’t meet reality. This can be on any level. You expect your body to react in a certain way and it doesn’t, leaving you unable to complete a vital mission. Your best friend doesn’t act in the way you expected and now you have to clean up after him. The hurricane you expected was a Category 2; it came in at a 4.

4. Antagonists must have goals, too. Those goals must be specific to that antagonist, just like your protagonist’s goals must be specific to his character. The antagonist must be motivated by logic, too.

5. If either the protagonist or antagonist can just leave the fight and go home, you don’t have a story. Ask yourself: what if my hero doesn’t get what he wants? Can life just go back to the way it was? Then you don’t have a story. In a great conflict, if the antagonist gets what he’s after, then the protagonist CAN’T get what he’s after and vice versa. This is called a conflict lock.

6. There must be risk involved and the risks need to get higher as the story progresses. The value of anything is in what we’ll give up to get it. We will always risk more for the things that matter the most - freedom, our lives, our loved ones' lives.

7. A great way to crank up the tension is to set the clock in motion. This is called a time-lock. If your hero needs to find his identical twin, in order to get a kidney transplant or else he dies in six months, there’s conflict. If he has to find him in six days, better yet. Six hours. . . you see the point.

8. It is said that there are five major sources of conflict: money, sex, family, religion, and politics. Where does love fit in here? Hmmmm. Very Interesting.

9. One way to create conflict is by whittling away at the needs of your hero. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy? Maslow said that unless you have the first needs met, the latter needs don’t even matter. Here they are: 
  • Physiological: food, sleep, air, water, shelter
  • Safety: security and stability in chaos
  • Social: belonging and an escape from loneliness
  • Ego: self-esteem, attention and recognition
  • Self-actualization: fulfillment as a person
10. Lastly, you can have the best crafted conflict in the world, but if you have unsympathetic characters, your reader won’t care to read on. There’s a theater story that tells of an actress playing Anne Frank who was so unsympathetic that when the Nazis showed up looking for Anne, the audience yelled, “She’s in the attic.” Yikes. I felt the same way about the heroine in the Blair Witch Project. I wanted her to just die, already.

I hope these tips are helpful as you torture your characters. Give them the thing that they fear most and you’re on your way. Remember BiC-HoK.


About the Author:  Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.


  1. Really enjoyed this article--thanks, Jay ! I shared it on my FoxPrint Editorial Facebook page.

  2. Good one, Jax, your story is only as big as your conflict


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