Ten Tenets of Novel Writing: Conflict

A series looking at the ten different principles that go into writing a good book. This essay discusses conflict.

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Follows: Characters

There is a lot that goes into writing a good book, and many potential points where everything can go wrong. Throughout this series I’m going to be exploring different elements that, when combined, can lead to a well-written novel. This essay is going to be looking at my third tenet of novel writing: conflict.

By conflict I don’t mean actual fighting, necessarily. I think that one of the biggest barriers for new writers is understanding that the technical aspects of the craft that may not mean what you think they mean because of the colloquial definition of a word. By literary conflict, it means some kind of opposition—something that stops the character from achieving their goal.

There are countless ways in which this opposition can appear. You can have the antagonist who is trying to stop the protagonist from achieving their goal of saving the village or reaching the magic gem, but you can also have an internal conflict born from a character flaw that is stopping the protagonist from reaching happiness. Murder on the Orient Express has the antagonists stopping Poirot from his goal of catching them and Interview with a Vampire’s conflict is much more abstract; Louis de Pointe du Lac wants to tell his story and the interviewer’s growing questioning and interest in vampire life is impeding that.

Your protagonist and antagonist—the main conflict drivers in a story—don’t have to be different people. In The Shining, Jack fulfils both roles, as his goal is to provide for his family but he is also the one stopping that from happening with his drinking and anger problems. You could argue that the hotel itself is another antagonist that is trying to stop Jack from reaching his goal.

Whatever your conflict is, it has to be there. It’s what drives your characters and their plot forward. Without it they just get whatever they want and there’s nothing to stop them from reaching that goal and that doesn’t make for a particularly interesting read. Conflict is what makes the story. Hunger Games without the games themselves would be a three-page book; American Gods without the war between the old and new gods would be pointless. Conflict is key.


Next: Perspective

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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