The Art of Conflict

In the real world conflict is easy to start. Mis-communication, prejudice, general douchebaggery can easily bring it on. It often leads small disagreements into full out feuds. In writing, creating a conflict can be a little more difficult because there are actual standards you need to go by when putting your characters into a fight. How I’m trying to word this is that conflict is a sort of art form. Here are some things to remember when you start a fight with your characters.

The Conflict Itself

It has to be believable. Characters can’t just be randomly hating on each other when five minutes before they were all cozy. There needs to be a cause behind the conflict or tension. Something as small as a disagreement in opinion, or as vague as their parents’ hating each other can work. Or you could always go for the classic betrayal. Keep in mind, though, that every cause needs an effect, hence the conflict. Newton got it right when he came up with the theory that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. The resulting conflict must be equal to that of the causation. You can’t really have a justified lifetime blood grudge against someone because they forgot to give you back your favorite lipgloss. Following that theory, when the conflict has ended, tension rarely diffuses completely. The conflict they just had will leave a sort of scar on their psyche. They may not be able to trust that character again, or my get panic attacks when they meet a similar character. Tension will still be their between them and their interactions will change.

The Intensity

Most people don’t realize that one fight can create a domino effect in a relationship. One fight can easily be evolved into something bigger or lead to more fighting. Emotions rise, dark thoughts and feelings come into play as each character tries to seek dominance and one up the other into submission. Things will be said that shouldn’t be. It can and will get intense, but doesn’t always lead to physical action and that doesn’t make it any less damaging.

You will eventually come up with a conflict that can and will destroy your character. It may also hit you pretty hard too. Be wary of it. You can always edit it later but in the heat of the moment, the explosion can be big and throw your character and plot off course.

At the end of the day….

Don’t start a conflict you can’t finish. Do not leave tension up in the air if it doesn’t bring anything to the story. Give it a purpose if you haven’t already. If you don’t end a conflict eventually, your characters will not develop and learn from said conflict. Also if you have a conflict that lasts too long it can and will become stale and moldy like bread. Keep in mind that people’s attention spans are not what they used to be and your reader will not wait forever for a climax to your conflict.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when you are working on conflict, mainly the emotional part of it. Come back tomorrow where I go over the physical side of it. You better get your boxing gloves on. 😉

Until then, what are your favorite conflicts in your readings? How can you describe how that writer pulled them off?


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