Stories, As Life, Must Have Conflict

The title of this blog post, I realized the other day, is very true. Actually, I was sitting on the toilet. Plenty of conflict there, no? Anyway, I started thinking about this conflict issue. Every good fiction story has to have a conflict. It’s the conflict and the resolution thereof that is the story.

It’s nice to read someone’s blog when they’re a friend of ours and hear about their day, and something they did to have fun, or that they took their kids to the doctor. Great. Cool. I like hearing how someone I know is doing. But what blogs are going to get the most comments? Those that have conflict. For example, “Jenny jumped off the table at the doctor’s office and ran away, down the hallway, and a team of three nurses and two residents had to chase her. They coaxed her out with a lollipop. We thought we had convinced her to get the shot, but then when we got to the exam room, we had to sit on top of her to get it done.”

That’s a good story. Much better than, “We went to the doctor to get my kids shots.”

It’s the conflict that’s the story. It’s the conflict and the resolution of it, successfully or unsuccessfully, that makes us interested in the story, that makes it a good story.

Every piece of fiction has to have a conflict–one central conflict–and the really good pieces of fiction often have multiple conflicts that sprout out from there.

Writing the conflicts are easy.

It’s writing the resolution of the conflict that’s hard, and I think THAT is what the major publishing houses and the major literary agents are looking for. The story is important. The conflict is important. The resolution makes the story.

I think it’s that way in life too. We can’t truly appreciate the story until we learn how it’s resolved. The feeling of relief, grief, sadness, whatever we’re experiencing as we read the story, can’t be resolved, no ‘closure’ until the resolution.

In real life, we can’t really appreciate life if not for the conflict, but it’s the resolution of the conflict that is important. See, the conflicts we face in life and struggle through bring us character, experience, education, knowledge. But if we stay ‘stuck’ in the conflict, we never get to move to the other side where we resolve anything and USE the experience, education and knowledge for something bigger or better. Release the conflict and feel gratitude for the life returned to normal or allow the grief or joy of a life forever changed.

It’s not the struggles I face that make up the measure of my life. It’s the way I resolve the struggles. No one admires me for struggling. They admire me for the way I overcome the struggle. No one pities me for struggling. They pity me for succumbing to the struggles (resolution, unsuccessful).

It will be the same with your characters in your novel.

So when you’re writing fiction, think about that. Don’t focus on the conflict. It’s not what defines us. Focus rather on how you are going to resolve the conflict. Where is the closure? Where is the conclusion of the conflict, that point where, for better or for worse, happy or sad, good or bad, you (or your characters in your writing) say it’s time to move forward, with regret or with gratitude.

Elements of a good story — character-driven, conflict, successful (though not always ‘happily-ever-after’) resolution of the conflict.

Some writers give us pages and pages and pages of conflict, conflict, conflict, and then sum it all up in one little pat resolution. 400 pages of fiction resolved in two pages. Don’t cheat your readers. It’s not the conflict your story is about. The story is about the resolution.

When best-selling novelist Lisa Jackson wrote Time to Die, she received fanatic outrage over the fact she doesn’t ‘resolve’ the story. She built pages upon pages of the conflict and left the reader without any resolution. The marketing ploy was to hope the reading public would love the book so much they would rush out to get the next one, but in the end, it made people feel cheated. (read the reviews here: link, they’re brutal)

Lastly, don’t cheat your readers (or yourself in life) by starting side-conflicts to your main one and not resolving. There is nothing more I hate in a good book to get to the climactic end, “Oh, God… what a great… Hey! What about such and such?” Grrr.

That goes for life too. Tie up the loose ends. Resolve your conflicts. Not only will you be a better fiction writer, but if you put that in practice in your life, you’ll probably be happier too!

Happy writing!

Love and stuff,