“What if…” The Role of Conflict in Your Novel

The other day, I was washing dishes, a tedious chore that requires very little thought, when my mind wandered off to my WIP.  As a writer, that often happens, especially during mundane moments like my morning commute, folding laundry, pulling weeds in the garden, or taking my bike ride.

My best musing happens during these times, and once in a while, a breakthrough occurs.  Most of my breakthroughs are revelations of potential conflict.  “What if [Villain] shows up just as [Hero] and [Heroine] are suddenly figuring out their attraction and are locked in an embrace.”  It is usually a bit of an “ah-ha!” moment, that solves some problems and creates others.

But that is the nature of conflict.  If the conflict isn’t messing something up, then it’s not a good conflict.  That mess is what the characters in the novel need to fix, in order to make the story interesting enough to read.  “Timing is everything,” they sometimes say, but it isn’t just the timing (placement) of the conflict that needs to be right.  The conflict itself needs to be deep enough, and just this side of impossible to solve, in order to work. Our characters need to work for those solutions in order to keep the reader interested and wanting to find out more.

So how do you make that all work?  Fortunately, as a romance writer, there are plenty of tropes out there to give inspiration, and almost every romance novel follows a particular pattern.  Whether that is “girl meets boy, hates boy, boy convinces her otherwise” or “girl meets boy, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” those standards of storytelling can help you focus your conflict in the right places.

These conflicts can be small, but are better when they are larger.  You don’t want to frustrate your reader with a whole bunch of little conflicts that are easily resolved or are just simple misunderstandings.  This is not exciting for the reader.  The conflicts need to be all-consuming – whether it is a physical danger or an emotional one.  I am fond of both.  I like to see my characters grow and learn, and by working through the conflicts, they are able to do that.

My current WIP features an external conflict – the “villain” is her father, who wants to take the land she was raised on.  It also features an internal conflict – the hero seems out of her league (the hero also thinks she is out of his league).  Intersecting both of these conflicts at the 2/3 or 3/4 mark in the book is my goal.  The excitement of reading up to these conflicts, and seeing how the characters deal with them, will be great for my reader.

There are still many miles to go in this story, of course.  But now that my life is settling back into some sort of summer normal, I should have time to get more deeply involved in the conflicts I’ve managed to work out in my head over the sink full of dirty dishes.

Where do you get your ideas for conflict?  Are you like me and your mundane life gives you plenty of “thinking time,” or do you use another method?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


4 thoughts on ““What if…” The Role of Conflict in Your Novel

  1. Nice post, Susabelle. I get my best ideas while I’m walking–trying to shed those excess bulges which appear overnight through no fault of my own except maybe that extra helping of cheesecake. And the pie. I like to give a character a couple of things she wants and then make it seem impossible to have both. Or give her a quest and then throw obstacles in the way. In the end, I think character motivation is the key to a good conflict. Best of luck with your story!

  2. Great post on conflict Susabelle. Mundane tasks are one source for ideas, but mostly in the shower, middle of the night and whille walking my dog, new ideas come to me or a problem in my WIP solves it self in my mind will not thinking about it. Funny how your mind works. I keep a pad and pencil on my nightstand for those late night early morning bursts of brilliance. LOL Have a great weekend. Glad your world is settling down.

  3. Timing is everything? Well ain’t that just so. I remember when the time just wasn’t right, even though everything else was. Still, happy memories and hopefully things worked out OK on both sides in the long haul. Not forgotten.

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