Peggy Bechko: Writers Facing Conflict

godzillakingkong by Peggy Bechko

Have you really given thought to conflict? It’s the life blood of your story creation.

I mean think about it. When people have something exciting/terrifying/ dangerous happen to them and they survive to return home to their regular lives what do they talk about? Their regular lives of the out-of-the-ordinary thing that happened? The fact of the matter is, people generally relive those scary/exciting times even when it’s something they might like to put behind them (like a factory explosion, or wartime experiences of a soldier or the collapse of the towers on 9/11). Why are we like this? A psychologist might be able to tell you but I can’t. The obsession people have with thrills is something that’s been around forever. Consider the Romans, the Spartans…us!

But conflict isn’t just one person batting another over the head. There’s all kinds of conflict. And even if you’re the mellow sort who avoids conflict in your life, you can’t avoid it altogether because sometimes it’s brought to you. Additionally it would be silly to try to avoid conflict in your storytelling because you’d end up with no story.

So, let’s talk about the types of conflict. Convincing conflict for your characters.

There can be broad conflict with society. This happens frequently in science fiction or fantasy but it can be in the everyday world as well. It’s a situation where the protagonist doesn’t fit in. A ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’ your readers can identify with is like a fish out of water. Ender in Ender’s Game ends up in conflict with not only the aliens he’s out to defeat, but with the militaristic society he lives in. There are many others. Study them. Perhaps a character is mentally or physically different and doesn’t fit in Perhaps the character is out to change the society he or she lives in. Think about it.

There’s the good old fashioned conflict with an enemy. That enemy might be the next door neighbor or it could be Godzilla. Could be the evil forces in the Harry Potter Series or the master of the ring in Lord of The Rings. Could be Godzilla. Stakes in this kind of conflict are very high creating a very tense story. It’s a little more straight-forward than some as usually it’s pretty plain what has to be done, i.e. eliminate Godzilla. And, the good thing about this kind of conflict is your hero can be as bad ass as you like, fighting, killing, destructing and there’s no associated guilt so no extra stuff you as the writer has to work through in order for your hero to remain heroic and not wallowing in a pool of self-doubt and guilt.

Then there’s the conflict with a friend or loved one. Or the age old conflict between parent and child. Friends and relatives don’t always (read hardly ever) want the same things. And the results can range wildly from hurt feelings to murder. And, think Civil War, this conflict and result in heartbreak if brother fights brother or cousin kills cousin in a dispute. You can create all sorts of twists and turns when you delve into relationships and truly wring out a gripping story.

And, it’s not unusual for someone to have conflict with him or her self. The hero may not be certain as to what is the correct path. Should he kill Godzilla or is the monster an amazing gift which should be captured and studied? Or a character might be clinically mentally ill, suffering from any range of illness causing complications. Or she might be possessed if you’re going paranormal. Or the character may feel torn about a decision needed to choose between one thing and another; love or a career, an addiction or the path to sobriety.

And, don’t forget even though conflict can be as direct as hero vs. Godzilla, it can also be much more complicated just as life is. What happens to Godzilla when you involve a scientist? Or a politician who’s against whatever plan there is to kill the beast because it’ll affect his home turf? Or what if a kid loves the giant beast and is continually in the way, trying to prevent others from hurting it? It’s the ol’ what if scenario again. Play with it. Work with it. Just make sure the conflict you create is convincing and consistent with the characters you’ve created. How you’ve created your characters will be a major influence in this area. You don’t want the reader saying, “he wouldn’t do that!”

And remember all conflicts don’t have to be major, but your reader has to be kept guessing, as to who’s going to win and how it’ll all turn out.


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.