How to Double Your Story's Conflict in Seconds

How to Double Your Story’s Conflict in Seconds

If a little of the right kind of conflict is good for your story, then how much fun can you get out of doubling your story’s conflict? The answer: oodles.

Your Story’s Conflict: The Standard Variety

The basic premise of story conflict boils down to a simple equation:

 Goal + Obstacle = Conflict.

Your character wants something in the story overall and each specific scene. But thanks to the obstacles provided by the antagonistic force, the character has trouble reaching that goal.

That’s the essence of plot right there. No story can run without that fuel in its engine. Every time your character’s pursuit of his goal is even partially stymied, he must dream up new ways of moving forward in his pursuit. And, just like that, a story is born.

Your Story’s Conflict: The Deluxe Variety

But why stop there? Readers love layers. Let’s try a more complicated equation:

Goal + Conflict + Complications = Twice the Conflict

When your character is thwarted in his straight-up pursuit of the goal and he has to improvise to find new ways of reaching that goal, he’s often going to leave chaos in his wake. Sometimes that chaos is going to come back to haunt him. In Dramatica, Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley explain:

Characters are not only running toward the Goal, but trying to outrun the Consequences as well. Tension increases when one is both the pursuer and the pursued.

Your Story’s Conflict in Action

Consider a few examples:

In Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the protagonists’ goal is to extract their men from a mission gone bad and get everyone out safely. This goal is then obstructed with the basic conflict of heavy enemy resistance. The protagonists react to this obstruction of their goal by throwing more troops into the mix, which creates more chaos, which leads to further problems as the rescuers become just as endangered as the men they were originally sent to save.

In Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia, the protagonist’s goal is to track down his father’s murderer and clear his own name. This goal is complicated by his brother’s pursuit of him, which causes the protagonist to react again by turning to his uncle for help—which leads to further problems when the uncle betrays him.

In Alan Taylor’s recent Thor sequel, the main character’s goal is to extract the Aether from his love interest and prevent the bad guy from getting his hands on it. When his immediate goal is obstructed by his personal inability to extract the Aether, he takes it and the girl to his home planet—which creates its own problems when the bad guys sense the Aether and come looking for it.

In all these instances, we can see how the protagonists’ actions cause the conflict to escalate. Even as they’re racing madly forward, trying to overcome all the obstacles and reach their primary goals, they’re also being chased just as madly by the consequences of their attempts to reach that goal.

Never let your character get off easily. If you can hit him from one side, you can hit him from two. When both the forces hitting him are integrally linked sources of conflict, what you’ll end up with are the kind of layers that will create a complex and resonant plot.

Tell me your opinion: What consequences of your character’s actions are chasing him?

How to Double Your Story's Conflict in Seconds

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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.

Comments

  1. Christine Hall says:

    Hi Katie. Christine Hall here. Great article. I’ve written three novellas and worki g on the se ond short story. Not sure where to go now.
    Please make sure I’ve subscribed to ur blog.

    Thanks, Christine hall

Trackbacks

  1. […] Helping Writers Become Authors explains conflict as “Goal + Obstacle = Conflict.” According to their article, in order to double your conflict, all you need to do is add some complications to the equation. Basically, make it as hard as possible for your character to accomplish his or her goal. […]

  2. […] Helping Writers Become Authors explains conflict as “Goal + Obstacle = Conflict.” According to their article, in order to double your conflict, all you need to do is add some complications to the equation. Basically, make it as hard as possible for your character to accomplish his or her goal. […]

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