The Importance of Conflict
Every story needs some form of conflict; some kind of opposition or struggle. This could develop between character with opposing goals or between a character and their inner self.
‘Conflict’ is normally considered to be an argument or issue between two people, but this is not how I refer to it. Here, ‘conflict; means:
The external and internal barriers that a character has to get past in order to reach their goal.
Conflict is not Harry Potter vs Voldemort.
Harry and Voldemort are enemies with opposing goals. Harry wants to keep his friend safe and avenge his parents’ death. Voldemort wants power over all and to avenge Harry defeating him.
The conflict, here, arises because each character’s goals directly affect one another:
To keep his friends safe and avenge his parents’ death, Harry must defeat Voldemort. To have power over all and to avenge Harry defeating him, Voldemort must defeat Harry.
Without this conflict, there isn’t much of a story.
Conflict is used to give a sense of tension to the story, but it also develops the plot and characters.
When an antagonist has opposing goals to the protagonist (and vice versa), the conflict is what stops each of them being able to reach these goals without considerable difficulty.
Consider Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit.
Bilbo’s overall conflict is between himself and his inner courage. But the story also involves smaller examples of conflict which make the story interesting.
If his path had no conflict, the story would be boring, uneventful, and predictable.
However, Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain is fraught with difficulties big and small, which deter him from the path.
These difficulties develop characterisation, and character relationships.
Bilbo’s goal is to leave the Shire but he is conflicted by fear of the unknown. Facing this fear develops his courage and sense of adventure.
Bilbo’s goal is to rescue the dwarves from the elves but he is conflicted by the challenge of stealing the jail keys. Facing this and achieving the goal develops his bond with Thorin who, originally, disliked Bilbo.
When facing internal or external adversity, characters gain new insights into the world around them and the world inside their heads. As a result, they can overcome their own flaws and make a change (for better or worse), thus developing their characterisation and furthering the plot.
When a character develops a part of themselves, this allows you, the writer, to add scope to the plot.
What choices will the character make to get through this conflict?
How will they react to the challenge ahead?
How will their choice affect them as a person?
Conflict causes choice and choice is integral for building a plot. Wield conflict like a weapon against writer’s block!