What is conflict and how do you create it?
Writing is hard. Figuring out what works and actually implementing that knowledge is not as easy as you would think it should be.
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
— Mark Twain
What conflict isn’t?
It is not just random things happening to a character. It is not the everyday routine that brings about routine change and interactions. e.g. going to work, eating, cooking, hanging out with friends, getting dress and so on… That would be boring to read right?
Newton’s first law: An object in motion will remain in motion with the same speed and direction until it’s affected by an external force.
Conflict is the external or internal force, in regards to the story/character,that stops the motion of the everyday routine.
It is a problem where two opposing forces struggle over that problem with opposing agendas. Those opposing forces can exist within the single character too.
Conflict forces a change of direction positive or negative, leading to a revelation, or some enlightenment, or an action or decision the character takes one way or the other.
This action stems from a strong internal desire or need, and sometimes an external action that forces the character to act or both.
The strength of the conflict depends on what you need the scene to do, or accomplish, to move the story forward toward the story end goal.
It also depends on the word count limits.
In a short story, especially flash fiction, every word, and action count. You have 500 to 1000 words to get the story told. Word count for the short story goes up to, but generally less than, 7500 words. Most short stories are 3000 to 5000 words.
I enjoy writing flash fiction. I created the article below about what makes a good flash fiction piece.
What makes a good flash fiction piece?
When writing short stories or flash fiction you need to start with the story bones and keep words of description and setting at a minimum.
Leave backstory out. This forces you to write a tighter story, which often makes it stronger and improves the flow.
When creating conflict ask yourself what are the story stakes? What does the character want more than anything?
Why does it matter so much?
What is the need or desire that motivates this character to take action, act or react?
What is the catalyst that prevents, hinders, or forces the character to act to get what they want?
Conflict in Scenes
Conflict, big or small or both, is the vehicle that keeps your story moving forward scene by scene.
It can be internal or external.
Scene conflict is about resistance or barriers put before your character in the pursuit of the end goal, or a way to reveal things about the character or overall story.
Conflict is active. Passive-aggressive conflict if used cleverly is also active conflict.
Scene conflict can take many forms through speech, through your characters own failings and actions. It can reveal itself through attitudes and choices.
What does your character think?
Do they have strong opinions about certain subjects? Can that be used as a meaningful conflict in your story?
How can conflict create growth or enlightenment or failure for your character?
Can the conflict be used to reveal story information or connections?
Even the setting can be used as a conflict for a scene creating barriers or escapes that reveal character and adds to story flow.
External & Internal Conflict
When you are creating character, you need to build conflict into their personality.
One way I have done that is to use astrology. I give my character a zodiac sign.
You can use the sun or moon sign, all its elements, and aspects, to find natural ways that help the character generate their own conflict.
Example: Sagittarius is a fire sign, so think of all the ways a fiery personality might create conflict and tension in their life.
Using your character’s personality traits in a natural way, to show the way they act and react, and interact with the world around them.
This is an article I wrote about using astrology to build character.
Using Astrology to Create Characters Creating 3-Dimensional Characters
The shorter stories and flash fiction I write the more I learn. It is good practice for learning to use the elements of story craft and experimenting.
Short stories and flash fiction can also give you a way to build and experiment with your world creating structure and characters you can build on.
They are great gifts to offer to readers in a newsletter or your site or prequels to series.
You can enter your stories in contests, submit to anthologies and magazines, gain exposure while creating a story portfolio of works.
My personal goal is to master the short story while working on my larger work.
Finding Your Short Story Ending
What Makes A Good Flash Fiction Piece?
I have found that learning and practicing with flash fiction and short stories has improved my scenes in novel writing
More about short stories from other writers:
Using Conflicts in a Story: 6 Helpful Examples | Now Novel What are conflicts in a story? Why do they matter and what purposes do they serve? Read six examples of story conflicts…www.nownovel.com
Find You’re Ending in Flash Fiction and Short Stories? Endings — The Long and the Short!
I have found that learning and practicing with flash fiction and short stories has improved my scenes in novel writing too.
Using Conflicts in a Story: 6 Helpful Examples | Now Novel What are conflicts in a story? Why do they matter and what purposes do they serve? Read six examples of story conflicts…