It’s at the center of every story. It is the thing that drives the action forward. It’s what causes the characters to act and react. What is it?
Conflict arises when a character wants something and there are obstacles in the way of his getting that thing. It can be big (the hero must stop the villains from setting off a nuclear device and killing thousands) or small (the hero has to decide between love or security). Often, there are multiple conflicts in a story. Maybe the hero is working toward a big goal, but there are smaller, personal issues at play, also. All of these combine to make a story interesting and characters come alive.
The big conflicts are often what make up the main part of the story, especially in thrillers, science fiction, and epic fantasy. There is some large-scale thing happening that the hero(es) need to deal with and that is where the broader story is told. The action moves along on the rails of this big event and the obstacles that are thrown in the path of resolution are the main action and through lines.
More intimate conflicts are usually at the heart of romances, mysteries, and other genres that don’t necessarily have the hero saving the World, just his or her world. Which is not to say these are smaller stories or not as interesting or effective. The focus is narrowed, yes, but the story still rides on the conflict(s) created by the characters and their personal troubles or trials.
Characters are often rounded out by their personal conflicts. These may or may not be related to the big story line, but they are deeply relative to the character. The way a character deals with these smaller conflicts is how we get to know them, and drives whether we like them or not. It is also how you, the writer, make your characters interesting to your readers.
Conflict is central to any story. Defining and combining different types and levels of conflict make a story come alive and keep the reader turning those pages.
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