You’ve spent weeks and months creating characters you love, putting them in just the right story setting, fine-tuning your plot and crafting an opening with an absolutely perfect hook.
So, why aren’t your critique partners telling you to submit this story, right now? Why aren’t you winning contests right and left? Why does something still feel…flat?
Perhaps, while you were busy crafting the other story elements, you neglected the essential component of a compelling story: conflict.
I can hear some of you groaning. I understand. I don’t like conflict. I hate speaking up if I know my audience will not be happy campers afterwards. I crave close relationships, good communication and the feeling that all is right in my world. Ideally, I want to live a drama-free life. It’s a pipe dream, I know, but I do try to settle the inevitable conflicts quickly and kindly.
Here’s the tricky part. If I don’t create conflict—lots and lots and lots of conflict—in my stories, I have nothing more than a premise. Or, I have endless scenes with really nice people having conversations that don’t matter. And that don’t move the story forward.
In commercial fiction, conflict is the motor that keeps the story wheels turning. Each of your characters (including the villain) MUST have a goal—something they absolutely must have/keep/avoid, a motivation—a reason they must have it—and a conflict– something or someone that is keeping them from getting it.
Ideally, in a romance, your hero and heroine’s individual goals put them in direct conflict. Sandra Brown has often described conflict this way: “If he’s a firefighter; she’s an arsonist.” I’ve also heard conflict described as, “two dogs; one bone.”
Stop and ask yourself this question: what’s my story’s central conflict? Don’t write another word until you can articulate the answer. It’s the key to compelling fiction.
For more on this topic, I highly recommend Debra Dixon’s book: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Click the link to order a copy.
Until next time, I’m off to create havoc for my lovely characters…