Conflict: No Escape

In writing scenes, I often must take several runs at them in order to get the level of conflict high enough. As a society, we’re encouraged to play nice and women are even more pressured than men to avoid conflict. But in fiction or memoir, tension, conflict, suspense, obstacles, tiffs, spats, feuds and wars can mean the difference between ho-hum and sizzling.
Writing Tip for Today: Building conflict into scene writing is more than just having stuff blow up or any other event that is not directly related to the central story problem. Consider these things:

  • Strive for Balance. When you devise your story, try to balance inner and outer conflict. That is, the main character will have a problem that is about the external: another person(s), weather, earthquakes, world domination by space aliens. Give that character another inner burden, such as an emotional wound from the past, an unfulfilled longing or a grudge.
  • Be Quick. In any scene, present the problem, quickly. Readers don’t want to wonder why you’ve called them to this scene.
  • Turn Up the Heat. Conflict can be expressed not simply through dialogue, but through body language, gestures (and how!) or physicality. We hope no one gets hurt, but a character with “steamed” body language appeals to the primitive brain and lets the reader vicariously go into fight or flight mode.
  • Tit for Tat. In any verbal argument, avoid allowing one character to speechify. In most conflicts, there is plenty of interrupting.
  • No Exit. Don’t allow arguing characters to leave the area. Many writing exercises have writers practice letting characters argue in an elevator that’s stuck between floors, just to keep either party from bolting.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Conflict: No Escape

  1. Excellent.

    When I write conflict I think of all those moments in my life when my internal mental committee re-ran the tape and told me I should have done this. Or I could have done that. Or if only I’d said . . .

    Writing is my chance to relive those scenes in my life that I shoulda, coulda, woulda done different.

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