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Plot ~ Conflict


We've established the fact that good stories need conflict. Plot is all about conflict and resolution.

I think we've all heard some variation of the saying, "When the book gets boring, throw a body out a window." Maybe because of the graphic violence on TV and in the movies we think, "If we need conflict, then the bloodier the better."

That's not true, of course. If you think about some of your favorite books, chances are there several in which no one died at all.

Still, I see a lot of manuscripts from new writers with overblown conflict. This comes in the form of car chases in every scene, or people yelling at each other. Writers, it seems, often think conflict means fighting. And if you look it up in the dictionary, you'll find that it does mean that. So what am I complaining about?

Too Much Noise Anesthetizes Us

One problem is that too much noise— or too much bloody action—anesthetizes us. We see soldiers on TV every evening, or starving children with distended tummies, and it all becomes commonplace. We grow accustomed to the suffering, so it no longer wrenches at our emotions.

We need to have some quiet times between the car chases. Some times of normalcy. Otherwise the car chases feel normal and nothing feels exciting.

Too Much Meanness (or Goodness) in a Character Dulls the Conflict

The Joker and Lex Luther aren't real. No one thinks they are. If you want to write a book that feels real, you have to have complex characters. Your villains can't just be cardboard baddies in black hats. Your heroes can't be saints who never sin.

If you think that by making the villains less evil and allowing the heroes to have flaws you will lose the conflict in your book, I think you're wrong. The deepest conflicts are the ones found within the characters themselves. If you have Lex Luther and Superman fighting each other you have conflict. But when you have Superman faced with the choice of saving Lois' live-in lover or letting him die, you have just as much conflict. Superman has two opposing desires—let the man die so Lois is free, or save the man because it's the right thing to do. That internal conflict is easily as interesting as the fight scenes between Lex Luther and Superman.

Conflict means a lot more than having a series of yelling matches and fistfights following one another across the pages of your book.

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