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
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
My own first reaction to the word conflict is to think of
violence, but what is the real definition of the word?
According to Websters Unabridged Dictionary, it is:
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.
- small press
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
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
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
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.
"Creating Conflict and Sustaining Suspense" by