4 Places to Find Your Best Story Conflict

4 Places to Find Your Best Story ConflictPart 6 of The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel

Got a flabby story on your hands? No problem, I got a flashy cure: story conflict. Now, before you roll your eyes and board the Yeah-Yeah-Heard-That-Before-Got-It-Thanks train, let me check your ticket. Because story conflict is neither so simplistic, nor so easy as many writers first think.

At its most basic level, story conflict is nothing more or less than an obstacle placed between your protagonist and his story goal. Conflict is not arguments, altercations, or outright battles. Those things are all the result of conflict, but they are not conflict in themselves.

The other thing conflict is not is necessarily a standoff between protagonist and antagonist. If you simplify conflict down to just good guy vs. bad guy, then you’re missing a ton of opportunities for deepening the weave of your story—as well as quadrupling its entertainment value.

Today, let’s take a look at four possibilities for expanding your story conflict and improving your book as a whole.

Story Conflict (or “Why The Avengers Shouldn’t Have Worked, But It Did”)

The Avengers was a landmark movie in a lot of ways. It did what no other movie had (or has) successfully done: tied together four different franchise characters into a single story—one that was somehow good enough to blast all box office records up to that point.

Avengers Say Your Move Batman

Personally, I was highly skeptical going into The Avengers. I thought the whole idea of weaving standalone characters into the same story sounded ridiculously fun. But I had major doubts about the quality of the movie that would result. How do you get a cohesive plot out of such wildly diverse characters—much less one viewers can suspend disbelief over?

Naturally, like about a gazillion other viewers, I was delighted with what director Joss Whedon turned out: a fast, expertly edited, interesting, funny story.

However, it’s not, of course, without its flaws.

  • It’s not, in itself, a particularly innovative or deep take on the action or superhero genres


  • Its use of the old kill-the-mothership-and-you-conveniently-kill-all-the-little-minions trope is convenient, as ever.

The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

  • And Cap’s outfit. Seriously. It’s the worst.
Captain America's Uniforms

Captain America, Marvel Studios.

What worked about this story—and indeed the main reason it launched the Marvel series from interesting question mark to full-on blockbuster powerhouse—is that it put the camera exactly where it should be: on the characters and their conflict. The most interesting thing about The Avengers is (think, think, think)… the Avengers. Whedon knew this, and he crafted a tight script that didn’t get distracted by the genre’s demand for action at the expense of this all-important character interaction.

4 Variations on Story Conflict

The other thing Whedon knew was that you can’t write a solid story about a bunch of good buddies who sit around slapping each other on the back and eating Shawarma all day.

Shawarma Avengers Post-Credits Tag Scene

The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

Nope, you gotta write a story about a bunch of guys engaged in full-on conflict with one another.

Just as importantly, you’ve got to keep that conflict varied, depending on which characters are involved and what their motivations are. Take a look at the four different types of conflict Whedon used to gel this difficult story and keep readers focused and entertained.

1. Moral Conflict

Most of the time, when you think about story conflict, you think about moral conflict. In most stories, this is the foundational type of conflict. This is what the story is about. It’s the old good guy vs. bad guy conflict. The bad guy possesses one set of moral values and convictions, and the protagonist opposes him with a set of his own.

In Avengers, we certainly see this type of conflict playing out between the Avengers as a whole and the villain Loki, who wants to rule Earth by force. But we also see it within the group itself. The fundamental lack of trust amongst the Avengers (always an interesting story dynamic) opens up the possibility for their investigating each other’s motives.

In particular, we see Tony and Steve prying into the secrets of SHIELD and Director Nick Fury—who, as it turns out, is creating weapons of mass destruction.

Hydra Weapon Avengers

The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

Your Takeaway: Moral conflict between protagonist and antagonist is one thing. That’s expected; that’s safe; sometimes it’s even boring. But when you can set up moral conflict amongst allies, that creates an entirely new and interesting dynamic. Because the casting isn’t so black and white, it also opens up interesting avenues for thematic exploration of the characters’ respective moral choices.

2. Physical Conflict

Moral conflict often leads to physical conflict. Words aren’t getting anyone anywhere—so push starts coming to shove. Action stories, in particular, revolve around physical conflict. But it is also present, in its own variations, in any story in which the protagonist must physically labor to move past his story’s obstacle to reach his goal (sports stories, survival stories, detective stories, and quest stories are all equally obvious examples).

The primary example of physical conflict in The Avengers is, of course, between the Avengers and Loki’s army—first the mind-slaved humans and then the alien Chitauri. But Whedon didn’t fail to take advantage of it amongst the allies either. The vast majority of the movie’s action sequences feature Avenger-on-Avenger altercations: Tony vs. Thor, Steve vs. Tony and Thor, Natasha vs. Hulk, Hulk vs. Thor, Natasha vs. Clint. (It is an action movie, after all.)

Thor vs Iron Man vs Captain America

The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

Your Takeaway: The key is creating a story-centric reason for all physical conflicts. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that just because characters are fighting, the story is obviously presenting meaningful conflict that advances the plot.

Remember: conflict is always about the character trying to get past an obstacle in order to reach his goal. Every time he encounters an obstacle, at least one of three things need to be happening:

1. He gets closer to the goal.

2. He gets farther away from the goal.

3. He learns new clues that will help him get closer to the goal the next time.

Physical conflicts must also be varied (which was one of the reasons Whedon added the Maximoff twins in Age of Ultron, so he could get away from strictly “punchy powers“). You can only write so many straight-up fistfights or gunfights or swordfights before readers start skipping pages.

3. Personality Conflict

Now, we reach my personal favorite—and arguably the biggest reason The Avengers was a hit. My first thought on walking out of the Thor movie the previous summer was that it was going to be potentially very interesting to see Thor and Tony Stark in the same room together. Two egos that big? Surely conflict must erupt.

And it did.

But wisely, Whedon didn’t stop there. He sowed personality clashes amongst practically every character in the movie. This is just one big unhappy family. Nobody gets along with anybody. Everybody’s got their own agendas, their own views, and their own very large egos. And Whedon cleverly made that the whole point of Loki’s evil plan and, thus, the entire story.

Loki Funny Look Tom Hiddlestone Avengers

The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

Your Takeaway: Interpersonal conflict is the secret to good fiction. It’s where all the juicy stuff comes from. When everybody gets along—when the good guys are always perfectly good, perfectly happy, perfectly agreeable, and perfectly friendly—nothing interesting happens.

Interpersonal conflict is also the secret to great dialogue. I often hear writers saying, “I wish I could write Whedon-esque dialogue.” You can! Because this is his secret: give everybody a reason to get in everybody else’s way, and then turn loose their personalities.

4. Natural Conflict

Finally, we have natural conflict. In some respects, we might almost call this “inanimate conflict.” It’s conflict that arises from an impersonal source—such as a force of nature, a storm, a hostile environment, or a malfunction of crucial machinery.

This is usually the least interesting of the four types of conflict, since it doesn’t involve the complexities of human interaction. But it is still a vital tool to have in your story conflict toolbag, especially for use in further complicating your already existing layers of conflict.

Whedon poured on an extra-large, extra-green dose of natural conflict at the Midpoint when Bruce Banner hulks out into a mindless green rage monster.

The destruction of the helicarrier’s engines—threatening a crashlanding—is another example of natural conflict.

Your Takeaway: The key to successful natural conflict is recognizing “non-sentient” doesn’t mean “random.” Having a random car hit your protagonist or a random tornado take out his house probably isn’t going to advance your story in a mature and meaningful way.

Note how Whedon kept both his instances of natural conflict totally pertinent to the story by ensuring they were both incited by characters. Bruce hulks out because of Loki’s plan. The helicarrier is shot up because a mind-slaved Clint comes to rescue Loki. Neither are random, even though the obstacles themselves have no personal choice in the matter.

Whenever you find yourself writing a scene that feels like it’s lacking zip or depth, consider your story conflict. Can you create a more interesting dynamic by adding or enhancing one of these four layers of conflict? Give it a try!

Stay Tuned: Next week, we’ll talk about how Iron Man 3 made the worst possible mistake any story can make with its structure.

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How are you using these four levels of story conflict in your work-in-progress? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Kate Flournoy says

    I LOVE THIS!!!!!! Seriously, this tactic is where I get most of my plot-twists. (Partly because I’m horrible at plotting, and this is a convenient way out 😛 😉 ).
    I’m especially using this tactic in my WIP, because the theme (I think I said before, somewhere, maybe) is man’s need for a moral compass outside of his own wisdom; how he doesn’t have what it takes to choose right from wrong and follow the right path.
    So… I needed lots of different paths. Which got really interesting really quick. I ended up having the good guys in a mess of political strain resulting from different personal quarrels, where no one obeys anyone and everyone is giving orders that no one listens to.
    Aaaand the bad guys, on the other hand, have a perfect organization. They’re all united behind one goal, and thus incredibly efficient. The resolution of the story conflict hinges on the MC’s ability to choose which side he’s on (and thus stop fighting his own side; he’s most of the problem), but he doesn’t know how to tell which is right and which is wrong.

    Yeah. It’s fun. 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Your story sounds awesome–on both the plot and theme level. So much juiciness to explore!

      • Kate Flournoy says

        Thank you. Yes, I’m having a blast with it. It’s in second draft stage right now, and I’m pretty happy with what I was able to do with it.
        You helped with some of that, you know. 😉 Your articles are the best thing since sliced bread.

  2. J. A. Hagen says

    Thanks for sharing that. I love “The Avengers” but getting the mechanism why it worked explained makes it clearer.

    I’ll try to use that in my story. So far, I only found out that putting two characters that dislike each other face to face produces juicy dialogue. It really takes on a life of its own.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It took me a couple views to totally get it as well. It’s really a very simple movie, but the editing is so tight, it feels much more complicated.

  3. I kind of want to watch that movie now. . .

    I struggle with putting in the right amount of conflict between characters because I so dislike any kind of emotional conflict in real life. And in fiction, I dislike stupid emotional conflict — misunderstandings that could easily be avoided, characters being uncharacteristically and irrationally stubborn, and so on — but real, interesting conflict is the heart of story. I guess what I need to do is work on conflict that isn’t necessarily about fighting and that has interesting dimensions. . . .

    I particularly struggle with how to include the right sort of conflict between romantic leads, especially because I so dislike conflict that artificially keeps characters apart. But without something keeping them apart for a time, you don’t have a real love story, either.

    This is a very helpful analytical framework for thinking through potential sources of conflict.

    • Mirkwood says

      I have the same trouble. I have a hard time getting my characters in arguments or fights, especially if it’s stupid conflict—I find it too easy to get fed up with the characters if they’re making a big deal over something silly. I guess for me a good idea would be to look at stories I really enjoyed and see how they pulled off interpersonal conflict.

      • That is really good advice! The category from the article that I most enjoy is Personality Conflict. I love to see characters behaving like themselves, so I should probably go for personality conflicts and sometimes values conflicts. Since I find that kind of thing interesting, I will hopefully write it up in a more interesting way!

        The main thing that to me is a cheat is conflict based on misunderstanding.

      • I think the way to make the conflict organic, and not the kind where you just want to knock the characters’ heads together to make them shut up, is to make the conflict based on personality. Think about the times you’ve gotten mad at someone, or just strongly disagreed with them, on something important to both of you. It’s probably because you’re both looking at it in completely different ways, and neither of you can (or maybe you can, but you won’t) try to look at it from a different angle.

        If two characters are trying to rescue someone, and A is hot headed and impetuous while B is thoughtful and cautious, boom, conflict. A will think that B is a coward for trying to hold them back and think things through; B will think that A is just being stupid and reckless. Of course, they see themselves as the reasonable one. A just wants to rescue their friend and truly thinks he can do it, and thinks that delays to make plans are only going to make it harder to do the job. B may have some fear holding him back, which he may or may not acknowledge to himself or to A, and he also thinks that the only way to do the job is to do it right and plan it out carefully.

    • KM’s post excited me because she touched on what I loved about “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” If you’ve never seen it, here’s a quick run down that I think might help you.

      The setup is that after 50 years of brutally occupying Bajor, the Cardassians are driven off the planet and have to turn over their space station to the Bajorans. Starfleet, a science/ military wing of the United Federation of Planets, will jointly operate that station with the Bajorans. The Federation wants the Bajorans to join the Federation.

      The Starfleet officer in charge, Commander Sisko, is used to a hyperscience world … but he’s just been declared an emissary of the gods by the Bajorans. Starfleet wants to avoid repeats of what happened on Earth when natives thought foreigners were gods. Starfleet and Sisko think the Bajoran gods are actually just incorporeal aliens. However …

      … Sisko’s liaison is a religious Bajoran, Major Kira, who believes wholeheartedly in the prophets, and if the prophets say he’s their emissary, then by golly he is. The two of them must try to respectfully navigate their different outlooks.

      Major Kira was a resistance fighter against the Cardassians, and proudly has a lot of their blood on her hands. She’s wary of the Federation because she wants her world to be independent. She loathes Cardassians … and there’s a lone Cardassian tailor remaining on the station who is suspected of having been a very highly placed intelligence agent in the previous regime … which would mean a lot of Bajoran blood on *his* hands. He claims to be on the outs with his government, but what’s he *really* up to?

      Odo is a mysterious alien who is in charge of station security.
      Even he does not know what race of alien he is, and conflict arises when his quest to learn his origins results in the discovery that his people are totalitarian conquistadors in another part of the galaxy.

      His people start coming after the Federation, and want him to side with them. However, he considers the space station and its crew to be his home and family.

      Mind you, fisticuffs and arguments, don’t provide the principal conflict in these situations. These characters rarely shout at each other. The conflict is all inherent in the setup. The writers were trying to get around Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s insistence that the Starfleet crew must be one big happy family. Which saps so much conflict. So, the writers introduced characters who weren’t part of Starfleet but were obliged to team up with them.

      Chances are your own characters have principles they stand for, or beliefs they hold dear that even their friends might not be on board with. They are naturally going to be on opposite sides when certain issues come up, which could test their friendship, honor, etc.

      Good luck! I hope this helps.

      • I so need to properly watch DS9. I never had the chance to see it from start to finish but uuuuh, yes it is AWESOME! Ithink it’s such a shame with the “one big happy family”-thing, it really missed many cool opportunities. Luckily there’s always fanfics… 😉

        • Joe Long says

          I’ve been a bif fan of Ron Moore. He’s listed as the supervising/co-executive producer for 128 of DS9’s episodes (out of 173), and if I recall correctly was the show runner. He took the colleague conflict to a higher level on his re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica”, one of my favorite shows ever and better than any of the Star Treks (I’ve watched them all). Moore does the realistic dark and gritty very well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, stupid emotional conflict is definitely a lose-lose. It’s as annoying in characters as it is in real life, and it often feels like a cop-out by an author who is just creating conflict for the sake of conflict. But dimensional conflict–ah, that’s the stuff of great thematic quandaries and epic character turning points!

      • Joe Long says

        What Laura says above about personalities and Jamie about principles reminded me of a new idea I had.

        The biggest reason I was compelled to start a rewrite was that I had done little to foreshadow a big, plot changing argument coming up between the main character and his father.

        I created a plot thread, woven through the whole story, that occasionally pops up to show how the two relate. Dad means well, pushing his son to be the best he can in order to prepare him for adulthood, but his people skills suck, and most often it ends up as stinging criticism to his sensitive son.

        Yesterday I thought of taking Dad out of this setting, repeated several times, to show Dad interact with HIS parents, with his son as an observer. The son’s seen variations of it before, but the readers haven’t. The geographical setting had been touched on during a trip to Mom’s family reunion, so I decided Dad’s parents were poor potato farmers, who still lived there, along with a few cows and pigs and chickens (recalling a friend of my grandfather’s, as my grandfather was a coal miner) Dad had the brains to go to college, become a high school math teacher and have a nice house in the suburbs – which is great, and what he wants his son to do – but as a result sees himself as ‘better than just a farmer’ and creates a rift with his own parents.

        I’ll put that new scene in the middle to give Dad even more depth, even if you still don’t like him. It’s all fiction and I’m tearing up as I type this out just now.

  4. R Billing says

    There are complexities and inversions in conflict as well. From the WIP, Jane is talking to the Space Fleet equivalent of a rear admiral:

    ‘I did tell you it was important that I didn’t explain.’
    ‘Because?’ Realisation dawned in the old man’s face. ‘Because if I knew what you were doing I’d have to order you not to do it.’
    ‘I didn’t say that, but if you don’t know you can’t be blamed for anything that happens.’
    ‘Well, in that case…’
    ‘Thank you,’ she said with a grin.
    Spence shook his head and disconnected.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is actually a really positive example of why all conflict must have a *motive* behind it. Characters don’t fight with each or make each other mad or withhold important info for no reason.

  5. Bringing together such a dynamic and sometimes overwhelming characters was a huge challenge for this franchise and where I believe, the DC comics (example, Batman vs. Superman) failed. I love how you broke down the different types of conflict here with the examples, because I think it’s sometimes easy to overlook these minor points when you are dealing with nonstop action.

    If you had to pick a movie that wasn’t action that demonstrated excellent uses of conflict, what would that be?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Departed comes to mind. It’s not action, but still violent, so I’m not sure if that’s what you mean–but the conflict is deep, articulated, and complex.

      Oh, wait, I got the perfect one: Pride & Prejudice! Moral and personal conflict coming out its ears!

  6. Such a helpful article, thank you!

  7. Tom Younjohn says

    K. M. Weiland, Queen of Write.

  8. My first thought on walking out of the Thor movie the previous summer was that it was going to be potentially very interesting to see Thor and Tony Stark in the same room together.

    Yep (although I still haven’t seen Iron Man). I did see the Avengers, and I thought that of course Whedon would have to have them fight just to address audience questions about who would win. What I like was he wasn’t mindless about it; Iron Man and Thor have a specific and reasonable reason to be fighting each other in that scene.

    I love this post, because I’ve been critiquing stories lately where characters are shouting at each other just because the author thinks there should be a conflict. But because the conflict is not organic it doesn’t count. This is a nice handy framework for explaining how to go about it. Really, you’ve been on such a roll lately! I felt a lightbulb go off on the subtext post, and I’m going to make that my next challenge as I do my edits.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s such a different feeling when you’re writing a scene with deep, rich, inherent conflict versus one where the characters are just opposing each other for no reason. The former just feel *alive* with possibilities, and the scenes usually write themselves. But you have to start out knowing what the characters believe in and want–and why.

  9. HonestScribe says

    I especially like the point you bring up about how natural conflict is most interesting when it is incited by the characters. I think this is the primary reason the whole “fighting-perched-over-a-raging-waterfall” trope in action movies makes me roll my eyes. The writers assume that just because a waterfall threatens death, it somehow makes a fight scene more exciting, but the trope is so overdone that it usually has the opposite effect. If the waterfall was made an integral part of the story early on, it might work, but the fact that they are almost always randomly thrown in at the end makes them completely unnecessary. Of course, this complaint could apply to any other action sequence where the characters are fighting at ridiculous heights for no reason.
    I’m actually challenging myself to write a scene in which this kind of fight makes sense, but whether or not it works remains to be seen. Maybe one character is more familiar with the natural surroundings than another and lures the opponent there? This post has definitely given me a lot to think about.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Story conflict is most powerful when it is about choices–and those, of course, necessarily have to be made by characters. Incidental natural conflict robs characters of their power of choice, and that is why it is almost always less interesting.

  10. Siiiighhhh. Same old, same old . . . Amazing. 😉

  11. Your definitely right, Avengers isn’t what you would call a smart or flawless movie, but it didn’t need to be. It told a coherent (if simple) plot, did a great job with inter character conflicts and he knew how to use the camera in exciting ways. It’s still amazing that Avengers even happened.

    As for the interpersonal conflicts between protagonists, I try to throw in at least a little bit of that, but now that you’ve mentioned them, I noticed that I haven’t used them as much in the later books in the series I’m working on, except for book 10, which gets very political. Something I should look out for when I edit them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, the interpersonal conflict is the best. It takes everything up to a whole new level–and gets readers to invest so much more deeply.

  12. S. D. R. says

    I have to confess I avoid “comic book” movies. I’m just not interested in them. The advice you’re giving sounds interesting and sound, but I’d love to see some examples drawn from different types of films and stories.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No worries. As soon as I’m done with this series, I’ll be addressing different stories.

  13. Howdy!

    Great post. Love the variation of conflict here. Especially the”meaningful and story-centric conflict” that puts everything else into focus. Either they’ll get closer or further away from their goals or find a clue. That should keep the dominoes rolling! I think I’m beginning to see something more about moving the plot. Something clicked here as I’m considering this post.

    When I saw the trailer for Ultron I wasn’t all that impressed actually. Especially when they’re all hanging around the table eating being “buddies” when Ultron suddenly intrudes. To me this was a complete turnoff. Showing all of the Avengers together in one spot having dinner together. I would’ve been more impressed if Ultron showed up while they were fighting each other.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The party scene in Ultron was one of favorites in what is otherwise, for me, one of the worst entries in the series. At that point, Whedon did need to evolve their relationships, to show us why they’re *still* working together. But I’ll admit I was disappointed we didn’t get an “assemble” section in the First Act–which was one of my favorite parts of the first Avengers.

  14. Tyrion Perkins says

    I have been loving your tips, and things to learn from this series, but I don’t agree that the film The Avengers worked. I went to see it because I expected wonderful writing from Joss Whedon, and I liked Iron Man 1 and 2, but it bored me due to too much action, and no quieter times to get to know and like any of the characters. They were all appalling!
    Maybe you have to have seen all the previous movies in the franchise first, or maybe super heroes are not really my thing, but this film made no sense and did not draw me in like the Iron Man ones did. With what you say about the conflict (after a couple of years I don’t remember anything but the constant physical fighting), I wonder if it was actually overdone in this film.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Too much action” is the common complaint about this film. Were it a standalone film, I’d totally agree with that. Really, the genius of Avengers isn’t that it’s a perfect film (it’s not), but rather that it juggled its massive and tremendously complicated to-do list as well as it did. And I do think it makes much more sense in context of the overall series.

  15. ” … why all conflict must have a *motive* behind it …”
    Bottomline: don’t allow events in your story to become “random.” It must make sense.
    I love your breakdown into four types of conflict, especially the moral and
    personality conflict. This will raise the novel/story to greater heights, but using a much more subtle approach.
    Physical and Natural are more obvious–right in one’s face so to speak.
    Should one place internal conflict (personal) e.g. lone-survivor type story – single character story – under #3 personality conflict?
    Thanks, Katie!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I didn’t include inner conflict in this post since I’m talking about plot-moving conflict, which is necessarily external. (Which isn’t to say inner conflict doesn’t move the plot, but to do so, it must first grow to a place where it manifests within the outer conflict.)

      We could make an argument for putting it under Personality Conflict, but ultimately, I wouldn’t, just because it’s such a huge and nuanced catalyst of its own. It deserves its own section.

  16. Kelsey K. says

    Loving this series Katie! So you said the Captain America movie was your favorite by reason of 1. Cap and 2. Character development/dialogue right? But which one do you think is the best structured out of all the Avenger movies?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Winter Soldier is my favorite, followed closely by Civil War. First Avenger is my favorite of the *first round* of movies, but it definitely isn’t in the top tier overall (in large part because its structure is problematic).

      Best Structure Award is going to be a little arbitrary, just because pretty much all of the good Marvel movies are good because they have good structure. But I’m going to give the trophy to the first Iron Man. It’s a lean, mean machine with complex plot points that pull double and triple duty all over the place. My Story Structure Database breakdown here.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Which is kinda ironic, since Iron Man 3 is probably the *worst* structured, as I’m going to talk about next week.

  17. Call it confirmation bias if you like, but this makes me think of a lot of my WIP and the things I’ve been doing right. Must be on the right track! Thanks KMW, as always!

    — JMB

  18. Joe Long says

    I mentioned up above what I call “threads” in a story. With everything following a logical structure of cause and effect, a particular event in necessarily a point in a series of related points.

    When considering an event, especially a major one, it comes naturally to me to be able to visualize all the things that logically led up to it, and the consequences that follow. I’ll imagine this series of interconnected events and jot them down, later weaving the threads together into the rope of the story.

    Katie’s written often about foreshadowing, instructing us to drop the crumbs that lead up, but there’s also the consequences, especially of conflict. Occasionally I found myself writing a disagreement between characters, and then I dropped it like they instantly made up. I realized that even if they came to accept to situation, it might take awhile for the feeling to taper down.

    For example, at the beginning the big issue with my main character is his shyness and inability to so far find a girlfriend. His male cousin who’s moved to town vows to help him out and they go on adventures – but the cousin is none too pleased when he finds the MC is with his sister (also the MC’s cousin) It nearly comes to blows. It was a good scene, lots of lead up, but I couldn’t drop the hurt feelings right there – they needed to fade away. So the male cousin is still uncomfortable with his little sister’s relationship, but each week becomes a little more accepting that it’s nothing he can change.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This raises a really good point, which is that, in a sense, *everything* is foreshadowing. This is why random events are so problematic. They lead readers to believe there will be ramifications, and then, when there aren’t, it feels like a loose end.

  19. Thank you for this post. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as I’m struggling to increase the conflict in the WIP I’m currently revising.

  20. In fairness, Joss Whedon is a master. His work is brilliant. And this film is no exception. But I like how you broke this down into parts. Why it worked. How it worked.

  21. Explained in the most brilliant of ways! Go K.M.!

  22. Great post! I love the depth of your posts about conflict! They help me keep my stories focused so that I can create a riveting story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You know what they say: Conflict is story! We just don’t always realize at first how deep the rabbit hole goes. 😉

  23. In my story, E. Nigel Wallace discovers (he thinks) a human-trafficking ring within a larger community that is, by our lights, often cruel and abusive. His original goal is to follow his mom’s wishes and “marry a rich doctor on schedule” (trait: obedience) but he is distracted by a new goal of finding out more about this community and whether the stories are true (trait: curiosity/nosiness) and if they are, what to do about it (trait: sense of justice, compassion). He decides to play undercover detective (trait: deceitfulness). Finally his deceit is discovered (trait: inability to keep a secret) and he is rejected by the community.

    Moral conflict: whether he should report it to the local police; whether he should join in with the traffickers; which goal he should pursue. Naturally, I have to establish, as early as possible, his moral principles that would influence him in each direction.

    Physical conflict: not very much, until maybe at the end. There could be physical conflicts among minor characters.

    Personality conflict: he has a controlling mom. During the story he acquires a fiancee, and there’s some conflict all around.

    Natural conflict: not very much.

    I also have a conflict between E. Nigel’s beliefs about human nature — are people basically good and kind? Or are people basically evil and cruel?

    If that’s the case, there ought to be two characters advocating for the two beliefs — kind of like an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I already have the Barmaid saying the whole scenario “seems fake.” And everybody else is tellng him it’s true, but only implicitly, unless he voices his doubts by saying to one of them that he thinks maybe they’re all liars.

    He has no Mentor (except maybe his mom — a flawed Mentor) and no Sidekick. Maybe I should have an imaginary-friend character, whom he consults in quiet moments when he needs counsel. Or he could pray — an unusual thing in novels these days, I think.

    • He wants to marry a rich doctor (on a schedule, no less!) and there aren’t any single rich doctors–especially not his age (21). And if there are, they’re not interested in him. I guess that’s a natural conflict.

      Should he WANT to believe that people are basically good (or vice versa)–this belief obstructed by the evidence he sees? But why would he want that? Just because he always has–and because his mom says so? Or maybe his mom says people are evil and he wants to believe they’re good because it’s the only shred of independence he has.

  24. It is also the biggest bore and flaw in Hollywood movies. People getting into arguments all the time and massively over reacting.

    You are kind of missing the main point (I may well be wrong here!). A story essentially allows you to enter the lives and to some extent the minds of other people. All it has to be is an interesting place to be. The very most basic and hugely overused technique is to create the conflicts as outlined above, which can be incessant and annoying for me – and I think a lot people over the age of 30?


  1. […] are off and running, you’ve got to nail all the elements of your story. K.M. Weiland shows us the 4 places to find your best conflict, Melissa Donovan explains how to spot split infinitives, J.E. Fishman reveals 3 crucial elements of […]

  2. […] 4 Places to Find Your Best Story Conflict […]

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