Here are some tips for making a bland or episodic story more interesting by introducing deep character conflicts.
Sometimes, a writer will get feedback that the characters are unlikable or uninteresting, or the story is only “okay.” This is usually a good indication that the story needs more conflict.
For popular fiction, the best type of conflict involves personal character conflict. Some writers refer to this as “throwing rocks” at your character.
This type of internal conflict can also directly impact the external storyline, so you get maximum bang for your writing buck.
Conflict will automatically create more interest for readers because they want to see how the protagonist responds under pressure—giving an indication of what the character is truly like. Conflict also raises the emotional stakes of a story, and emotion always ensures reader interest.
Here are a few tips for increasing character conflict in a story:
Make the Character Face His/Her Greatest Fear
This involves going deep into your character development to determine what your character fears the most.
It could be something external, like an object or a place, or it could be a person.
It could also be something more abstract, like a concept, an issue, or a certain type of situation or circumstance that puts the character in a difficult place emotionally.
Once you’ve determined the character’s fear, then hit him/her with it with all the strength you’ve got in your pen. Be ruthless. This is not the time to be squeamish. This will guarantee an exciting movement to your story, and your readers will be anxious to find out how the character handles the stress.
Force the Character to Do What He/She Would Otherwise Never Do
Figure out what your character would profess never to do, even at gunpoint. What would totally go against his/her moral code or inner value? What would complete abhor your character to be forced to do? “I’ll do anything but don’t make me do …”
Once you’ve figured that out, create a situation that boxes the character in until he/she is forced to do exactly what they otherwise would never do.
Make sure the character’s motivation for doing it is strong—a good motivation is as important as the despicable action itself. If your readers don’t understand why the character is acting this way or doesn’t buy the reason, then you’ve lost them.
Boxing the character into this impossible situation will create rising tension and suspense as well as intense personal conflict.
Make the Character Fail at the External Goal
Consider what would happen if the character didn’t achieve their goal at the end of the story. If they completely failed. Imagine the emotional and physical consequences of this failure.
Then write it.
Write, intending things to end tragically and disastrously for the character. No hope, no redemption, nothing positive.
This will force you to write the most conflict for your character that you can. It will force you to heap problems upon the character and story, because you are aiming for a tragic ending—you are writing the story into the ground.
Then, give yourself an extra 30-40 pages and write a turnaround. Help can come from outside sources (although don’t make it too unbelievable) but turn the tide from utter desolation to something hopeful.
Practice and Rewrite
This might take a few revisions of your story. You might decide on one sort of conflict, then change your mind or want to try a different type of conflict. That’s okay. Practice make perfect. And the more you work on conflict in revisions, the stronger the conflict will become.
Just don’t give up.
Camy writes Christian contemporary romance and romantic suspense as Camy Tang and Regency romance as USA Today bestselling author Camille Elliot. She lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious dog. She is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads one of the Sunday worship teams. Visit her websites at http://www.camytang.com/ and http://www.camilleelliot.com/ to read free short stories and subscribe to her quarterly newsletter.