OMG… The toaster just caught on fire! What’s worse is that Jack is working on his computer in his bedroom. He let the toaster do its work while he did something else, and so, he doesn’t even know there’s a fire. The dog starts barking, but by the time Jack goes to find out why, the whole kitchen is in flames. What’s Jack going to do?
Jack’s a smart boy, and he knows he can go to the telephone and call the fire department, except… The only phone in the house is in the kitchen! Now what?
OK… Think, Jack. Go to the neighbor’s house and call the fire department, right? But after trudging through 2-foot snow drifts a quarter mile to the nearest neighbor’s house, nobody is home. Now, what’s Jack going to do?
Jack has a problem, and that means conflict.
It’s that simple.
Conflict is presenting your character with a problem and then, making it worse, much worse, and make it look list it’s ALMOST insurmountable. But it’s not. You don’t want your characters solving unsolvable problems, or your story will be “contrived,” and you definitely don’t want that.
Conflict can be external as illustrated above, or it can be internal, meaning a problem within. So, perhaps a test of character or friendship. But whatever the conflict is, it needs to be important. It has to be vital to the character’s success or failure or it won’t be a very good story, either.
Another thing about conflict is that it must start early in your story. It’s really great if it can happen with the very first sentence. The longer you take to get to the conflict, the less likely it is that your readers will be engaged enough to read on to the good stuff. So, get that problem into your story as quickly as possible, make it important, and turn the heat up until it’s almost unbearable.
Then, you may have a story that rocks. Conflict is the most important element of your story, so we’ll be talking more about it over the next few days. For now, read a story. Discover the conflict and see how quickly it comes into play. You may be surprised that you’ve not really noticed, but it’s been happening early in most stories you’ve read right along.