So, we already know that conflict is trouble and that if you don’t have that element early in your story, your readers won’t be engaged. But how do you create trouble, and what comes first? Characters or creating the problem?
What I do is to create my characters first. I not only give them names, but physical appearances. I decide who their parents are, what grade they’re in, where they go to school, what foods they like to eat, and on and on. I build a whole persona around each character.
For my main characters, I go further. I develop whole back stories that explain to me why they do what they do. I play a little Freud on them and see what really makes them tick. And I give them 5 things that really show who they are. We’ll be talking much more about that in the character development phase, but for now, just understand that I know the people I’m dealing with first and foremost. They almost become real to me.
For a short story, I don’t necessarily go so far, but I still come up with some pretty relevant information about my character so that I know them well enough.
Believe it or not, a story comes to me through this creation. It just flows. I know where their weak spots are, and where potential problems can arise. Do they feel inferior because their mother never gives them approval? They’re ripe for bullying, for example. Or, what if they think too much of themselves because they’re over-appreciated at home. Couldn’t that be breeding grounds for a fall?
Think of conflict in relation to the characters you create and it will be a far easier task than trying to come up with a situation first.
Works for me!