Without conflict, there is no story. It’s as simple as that. Except that the options for conflict are many and the ways of using it are layered. Not so simple after all! In this video, we’ll break it down so that you can identify the most important elements of conflict in your story and keep your readers turning the page.


Stephanie: (00:06)
Hello writers. Okay, so you’ve been working on your first draft of your novel, or maybe you’re getting ready to revise, but you can feel it in your bones that something is missing. It’s just there’s not enough tension. You’re worried that the reader is going to get bored. Now, you can ask yourself, is this just my inner critic telling me it’s not good enough? Or is there really something missing? If your answer is the latter, I’m willing to bet that what’s missing is enough conflict, and no, I don’t mean that you need to inject a screaming fight or an epic battle into your quiet coming of age story. Let me tell you about a really common thing that my second graders used to do when they wrote stories in class, because I think it will illustrate the point.

Stephanie: (00:55)
I woke up one morning, ate breakfast, then went to school, then we did math and played basketball in PE. Then we read our books at lunch. Joey gave me some M&Ms in the afternoon, Joey told Sam that I stole the M&Ms after school. I went to the Y M C A and played UNO with Sam, and Sam told me what Joey said. I told him I didn’t. Then I went home.

Stephanie: (01:17)
Now I don’t wanna disparage my sweet students, and certainly they had a lot more imagination than this example shows . But this is something that still happens even with some adult writers. It’s this problem of having a capital P problem in the story. In this example, the stolen M&Ms, but not creating any emotional tension around it. So let’s talk about how to add more attention around the problem or conflict in your story. But before we do, I want to encourage you to take the Novel Foundations quiz. It’ll take you less than two minutes to complete, and not only will you instantly see what your best next step is, you’ll receive a customized toolkit of resources based on that next step to support you as you continue on your journey. A big part of building the tension in your story comes from having that solid foundation.

Stephanie: (02:11)
The link to the quiz is waiting for you right at the top of the description. So be sure to head over there and take the quiz. So now, back to the conflict. Don’t worry, there’s a really simple method to figuring out what the conflict in your story should be. But just because the steps are simple doesn’t mean they don’t need to take some serious thought. So get your notebook ready and let’s get to it. First, you’ll want to identify what your main character wants and what they need to learn. Now, your main character wants something. Actually, they want two things. They want something outside of themselves, like a job or a relationship, or their parents to stop arguing. They also want something internal. They want to feel a certain way. Every choice that they make in the first half of the novel at least, is going to be in pursuit of getting what they want.

Stephanie: (03:02)
But you are the author and you also know that they need to learn a lesson. You want them to be changed somehow, probably for the better by the end of the book. So also, you need to figure out what it is that they need to learn. Next, you’ll name the obstacles that are keeping them from getting what they want and what they need to learn. The obstacles are going to create natural conflict. It doesn’t mean that things will get explosive, it just means that tension will build as they continue to bump up against and figure out how to work around those obstacles. Finally, make sure that the obstacles are both internal and external. The obstacles, keeping them from what they want and also from learning. What they need to learn will be both internal and external. In other words, their sworn enemy might be angling for the same job, but they might also be held back by their own insecurities.

Stephanie: (04:01)
External, internal. I’ve been watching the TV version of the bestseller Daisy Jones and the Six this week. In the third episode (no spoilers. I promise) there’s a scene where Billy, the lead singer of the Six, and Daisy record together for the first time. Let’s talk about the conflict, which really carries through the entire story, but is highly prevalent in this scene. Both characters want to achieve the highs of music stardom, but for each, there’s a different internal reason for pursuing it. So the external conflict is going to be about getting around the various obstacles to that goal of musical stardom, but they also have an immediate chemistry, both personally and musically, which is problematic in a number of ways. Plus, Billy is mad in this scene that in order to pull himself out of the hole, he has dug, he’s going to need to rely on Daisy who keeps insisting on revising his lyrics. The conflict intention is nuanced and provides plenty of juiciness for the reader or the viewer in this case to stay intrigued. Remember, without enough conflict, your story will be boring for the reader, but you can increase the chances that a reader will connect with your story by following the steps I’ve shared with you today. And the deeper you dig, the more layered and nuanced your conflict will become. If you enjoyed this content and know someone else who might benefit from it, please subscribe and share. I’ll see you next time. Happy writing.