The simplest novels start with a back story of elegance then comes the mishap that must be overcome and eventually all ends well. Well, that is not so different from general life. Why would we need a book to tell us that?
If a book was going to be worth my time, it has to open with a bang, and keep that bang or other bangs that supersede the initial one to keep me reading.
But why do I need conflict in a book? Why do any of us? Deep down, under the caveman exterior and the conditioned hairstyles we have (or not in some cases), there is a shadowy desire to see others falter. In reality, I never want to see anything bad come to anyone. I want us all to have wonderful lives but I have to admit that I am drawn to the TV or radio when I hear of a situation arising where the conclusion is ???
Conflict does not have to be run-of-the-mill weapon in your face, you are about to die, what do you do, where will you go?
Conflict can be many things and having several at key moments in your plot, especially when there have been dry or mediocre moments. They will engage the reader and drive them to keep reading.
A classic example of conflict at work are TV serials, like LOST. There was conflict all over the place and a cliff-hanger at the end of each episode just exaggerated the previous conflict or added another layer. We, the viewer were gripped to tune in to find out more.
But… in novels we can not leave the reader hanging on for an answer until the third book in a series. If you do add conflict, try to resolve it within that book. Bring some closure.
Below are examples of conflict;
- Man is pushed by another in the street. – Does he run back and attack/revenge?
- Man is pushed but doesn’t think anything of it until he realises that it might have been the person that slept with his partner — Attack/revenge/follow/malicious intent?
- He forgot to pay last month’s mortgage/rent bill. — Does he pretend he did, create a lie upon a lie? Where did the money go?
- The milk he used in his children’s breakfast meals was 12 months out of date. — Does he wait to see if any harm comes? Blames his wife?
- She just sent a nasty SMS text message to her boss. — Own up? Blame someone else? Pretend her phone was stolen?
- She just emailed a nasty message about someone to that person. – Own up? Blame someone else? Pretend her phone was stolen?
- Someone is being friendly with another but plans to kill them soon. — Does he change? Does the other find out?
- He is asked to collect a kite but is afraid of heights. — Does he climb and freak out? Does he overcome his fear?
- His son doesn’t know that he is the father. — Does he tell him? Was there a reason why the son does not know?
Be creative like circumstantial conflict
- Your computer just blew up and your coursework, due in 1 hour was on it, and you do not have a back-up anywhere!!
- The train is mega-late, you are 1 hr from your job interview and the interview starts in 30 minutes.
- Someone has written your forename on a wall and the symbol of a pagan ritual.
- It’s raining and you do not have an umbrella.
- You reversed your car and felt a bump.