We know we want conflict on every page because conflict is what keeps the readers turning the pages. They want tension.
It's true that we love blood and guts. We loved them in the days of the Coliseum and we still do love them. We want car chases. We want bombs. We want fistfights.
When we have the evening news on as we prepare dinner, the items that draw us from the kitchen are the ones where a man throws his children from a twenty-story balcony, or where a teen shoots his classmates to death before turning his gun on himself, seeking a glorious end, at least, for his sorry life story.
So it's not surprising that when we think of conflict for our books we think in terms of blood and guts and blazing guns.
By the Time the Shooting Starts, the Conflict is Over
But conflict, or tension, is often not even present in the shooting spree. By the time the teen shows up to school with his machine gun, the tension in his mind has already played out. He's already talked down the angel on his right shoulder and thrown in his lot with the devil on his left.
There is not much conflict between him and the kids he's shooting, either. The bullets are flying so fast no one has time to think. Children flee, like animals being hunted, without a lot of thought about the conflict or possible resolutions.
If the Shooting is Bound to Happen, the Conflict is Almost Over
Even if we enter the conflict before the guns start blazing, if the outcome is a done deal, there isn't a whole lot of conflict going on.
Maybe a little, depending upon whose POV we're working in. We might know the shooter is coming and spend the morning with the kids at school. We'll feel some tension then, wondering which ones will live and which ones will die. But conflict between the characters isn't there.
If the Shooting Isn't a Sure Thing, We Have Conflict
If you put us into the story while the teen is still trying to decide to shoot or not to shoot, then you will be giving us conflict. If he's interacting with people, trying to decide which ones he will shoot, then we'll have even more conflict.
Conflict is all about decision-making. Conflict occurs when people want two different things. Once the decision is made or a compromise is reached, the conflict is over. So while the kid is deciding what to do, and to whom, we have conflict.
I said it last week, but I'll say it again: The best conflicts are the ones that play out inside of one character. Watch Schindler's list and check out the scene where the Nazi is screaming at the Jewish maid because he wants to have sex with her so badly, and the only way he can forgive himself for such perversion (in his mind wanting her is the same thing as wanting to have sex with an animal) is to blame her for tempting him.
Huge, huge, huge conflict in that scene. Yes, it is an action-filled scene in that he's yelling at her and almost hitting her. But the action is not the conflict; it's simply the culmination of conflict that has been going on for weeks inside the Nazi.