Conflict has been with us since the beginning of time. The Garden of Eden was marred by opposing forces at work in its heavenly setting. Recognizing different types of conflict and incorporating them will make your story more realistic and meaningful.
Mountains, hills, and speed bumps
Imagine a parking lot filled with speed bumps. You try to avoid as many as possible. You slow down, go over the bump, then accelerate and you’re back on your way. No pain, right? No big deal. Speed bumps are minor nuisances at best.
A hill takes more time to cross. This is when you’re raising the stakes for your lead. When they’re at the foot of a hill type conflict, your lead will likely lose something, such as the time it takes to go around the base of the hill or the energy expended to go over it.
And when your lead comes upon a mountain of conflict— you get the idea.
Gift of conflict
Give your reader the gift of letting them in on the villain’s plans/actions before your lead knows. As the novel progresses, make sure your lead has no idea what evil trap she’s about to encounter. Your reader, however, will know. This creates tension that will keep your reader involved.
As you create conflict in your story, a good strategy is to give your villain the same desire (story goal) as your lead. Burn, by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy, offers up a batch of conflict right at the onset of the novel. Burn is a classic example of how a story’s lead and villain are both after the exact same prize.
Putting into practice
Let’s put all three conflict strategies into one oversimplified example.
Your lead is emotionally drained from a rough day at the office. She has to change her baby’s diaper, and then it’s straight to bed for much needed rest. She discovers she’s all out of diapers (speed bump). The last thing she wants to do is to go to the store, because her husband is out of town. But, she packs up the baby and heads to the store and buys the diapers.
Now switch to the villain’s point-of-view and show him sneaking into the back of a minivan and pulling out a gun (gift to your reader). Let’s say he’s the lead’s ex and has recently lost a custody battle for the baby. He wants the baby as much as the lead (same desire).
Lead returns to her car and finds that her tires have been slashed (hill). She calls a neighbor to come and pick her up. The neighbor gets into a minivan. Fifteen minutes later, the neighbor’s van arrives. The neighbor pulls up and your lead and baby get in. As they drive toward home, an armed stranger sits up from his hiding place in the back of the van and…(mountain).
Using this three-phase conflict model for your novel will give readers conflict they’ll be interested in following all the way to the end!
Matthew Koceich completed the Guild’s Apprentice, Journeyman, and Craftsman courses. He and his wife, Cindi, have four children and live in Mansfield, Texas. Matt’s first novel, The Sending, is available at www.marcherlordpress.com