I'm sometimes asked for my views on conflict in a novel. I don't suppose there are hard and fast rules, but some jump to mind, which new writers ignore at their peril.
Certainly, misconception as a foundation for conflict is a no-go-area. I seriously doubt if any intelligent reader would tolerate an artificial state such as misconception. Readers simply question why the protagonists don’t enquire and resolve the problem immediately.
I've listed a few ideas. I'll never claim the list to be definitive, just a guideline that can be expanded but never disregarded.
Conflict generally falls into one of three categories. Man against man; man against nature/inanimate things; or man against himself. Of these, man against himself, has perhaps generated some of the most powerful emotions found in books.
- Characters should always be in a circumstance from which there is no apparent escape. If there's a way out, there is no conflict.
- The conflict must be plausible. Whatever the reason, the conflict must seem rational within the framework of the story.
- The intensity of the conflict(s) must vary throughout the story.
- Individuals should never go over the top for the sake of contradiction or effect. The conflict must justify the response.
- Only one conflict should be allowed to run through the entire book. Minor conflicts should interweave but for only relatively short periods.
- No chapter should be without conflict but it should vary in intensity, rising and falling throughout the book.
- The novel should start with the main problem, continue with obstacles of varying influence, then draw to a close with the resolution of the main problem.
- You must resolve the conflict you started with.
- You must leave no loose ends. All questions must be answered.
- Next post on Tell Me a Story