Monday, January 15, 2024

conflict in stories, conflict in picture books, tension, drama
                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Obie Fernandez


As mentioned in the October 2022 blog, you can write the most beautiful story in the world, but if it hasn't any conflict, the story will feel flat, the audience may be bored, and agents could be unimpressed. But one blog post isn't enough to get the point across.  We have lots more to discuss about conflict.  

I work with writers who want to create picture books and submit them for publication.  Though they've developed an interesting protagonist, often their characters don't face a problem or the character has a problem that's too easily solved.  These writers need to consider spicing up their stories with conflict.  

Conflict is a struggle that provides drama and angst.  Conflict gets readers to care for the protagonist and gets them to turn the page.  

Instructor J.T. Bushnell, instructor at Oregon State University says, "More precisely, conflict means thwarted, endangered, or opposing desire.  It’s basically when a character wants something but something else gets in the way.  Maybe the character wants a thing but can’t get it. Maybe the character has something but is in danger of losing it. Maybe the character wants two things that are incompatible. Whatever its form, though, it gets our attention."

Conflicts in fiction can be broken into seven categories.  Here's the list with examples:  

  • Man vs. man (The Wizard of Oz, The Hunger Games)
  • Person vs. nature (The Life of Pi, The Old Man and the Sea)
  • Person vs. society (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • Person vs. technology (Frankenstein) 
  • Person vs. supernatural (almost any work by Edgar Allen Poe)
  • Person vs. person (a work about a person struggling with moral or inner dilemmas; Hamlet)
  • Person vs. destiny (The Odyssey)

This diagram of Freytag's pyramid shows where to place conflict in a story.  

Here's how you can use Freytag's pyramid* as a guide.  

  • Start with the exposition: introduce your main character along with the goals that character wants to achieve and why the MC wants to reach that goal.  
  • Create the inciting incident, the uh-oh moment and BOOM!  You've added conflict.  
  • In the rising action, throw obstacles and complications in the MC's way.  At the climax of the story, the worse has happened and the goal seems unattainable.  
  • In the falling action when all seems lost, the character figures out how to solve the problem.  
  • Lastly, in the denouement, the final outcome of the complication is revealed.

So, analyze that beautiful story you've written.  Does it have conflict?  Does it have a protagonist who wants something intensely, but encounters a significant obstacle?  If not, figure out a way to create tension.  If you're stuck, let your mind wander and write whatever pops into your head to create difficulties for your MC.  Don't edit.  Put all your ideas down.  One of these ideas may work or at least point you in the direction to increase the conflict.  

Readers want to root for the main character or see a complication resolved.  They will be more likely to keep reading when there's some drama.  When there is conflict, you'll have a compelling story.  A complete story.  You will have a story that will grab an audience and quite possibly, the attention of a literary agent, too.   

✌ and 

More on conflict:

* Kitty Turner states on "Gustav Freytag was a hugely popular German author and playwright active from 1840 to 1870. Freytag’s Pyramid is a framework used to analyze and outline the dramatic structure of stories from beginning to end. Although the pyramid is not a one-size-fits-all solution for narrative fiction, a story missing one or more of the elements in Freytag’s pyramid can feel incomplete, or can fail to engage."