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Writing Tips for Fiction Writers!


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  Conflict in Fiction
By Tina Morgan

Inserting conflict into your fiction is not quite as simple as inserting a fist-fight into the storyline. Conflict in fiction can be as diverse and as individual as you are. It can also be used effectively to heightened tension and increase suspense.

In many cases, the conflict within the story is the driving force towards the story goal. The need to overcome the conflict is often the central focus of the hero. The means to overcome that same conflict can then become a path to victory for the protagonist.

Yet not all conflict must be gut-wrenching, wrist-slashing, eye-popping suspense. Often, the more subtle forms of internal emotional conflict can impact upon a reader far more deeply.

My own first reaction to the word conflict is to think of violence, but what is the real definition of the word?

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, it is:

1) To come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory; at variance or in opposition; clash

2) Discord of action, feeling or effect; antagonism or opposition as of interests or principles

3) A mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses

Conflict in a story does not have to be light sabers or laser guns, automatic weapons or explosions. It can be as simple as what clothes will our protagonist wear in the morning, or as deep as how far should modern science go? Conflict can also be an internal process. No matter where your story's conflict arises, every story must contain an element of it.

The type of conflict used in each story depends largely on your target audience.
  • age
  • sex
  • special interests
  • genre


  • small press
  • large publisher
  • self-publishing

Certain genres and age groups will limit or restrict the type and depth of conflict the writer can explore. Special interest publications allow the writer to target a more specific conflict. YA novels and stories will limit the degree to which you can explore sexual conflicts and physical violence, but will heighten the importance of emotional conflict. A primarily male or female audience will vary in the type and style of conflict. A Christian publisher is more likely to focus on internal conflicts, rather than physical or sexual conflicts.

The type of conflict your novel has is part of what determines its genre.

Romance novels require the primary conflict to involve two people struggling with a romantic relationship with/without sexual tension. By this, I mean the type of conflict that touches the reader emotionally, rather than intellectually - really "tugs at the heart-strings". The audience's age level will determine the amount of sexual content and tension. Because the romantic conflict is the primary conflict, it cannot be resolved until the end of the story.

Mysteries require an external conflict where a crime or disappearance must be solved. However, that does not exclude internal conflicts within the main character's nature or personal relationships. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum is a delightful character with a lot of internal conflicts between her own emotions, family and career choices.

What makes a thriller is a high stakes conflict. Here is where my definition of conflict finally holds up. The nature of the thriller is the risk of extreme bodily harm or death to the protagonist and/or those he/she cares about. The danger can be from other people in the form of terrorists, murderers, psychopaths, etc or a violent act of nature: flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake or volcano. Violence is at the very heart of the conflict.

Science fiction and fantasy are two of the most versatile genres. The conflict can range from sword and sorcery or space opera to questions about the morality of creating artificial life or cloning. While different publishers prefer different sorts of conflict, there is room for any variety of style and type. Literary stories are the antithesis of my incorrect definition of conflict.

Literary stories revolve around the internal conflict and how the character deals with it. The external circumstances and the character's actions are the setting for delving into the character's internal thoughts and the journey they take to decide upon their action or inaction.

All of these genres can be combined effectively. Often, combination - or cross-genre - stories are harder to market but some of the best novels I have ever read have included cross-genre settings and conflicts.

Copyright 2002 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved.

Go to "Creating Conflict and Sustaining Suspense" by Lee Masterson



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