The Most Annoying Type of Story Conflict

This week’s video talks about a type of conflict that works within the story, but which often causes more annoyance to readers than it’s worth.

Video Transcript:

If you’ve been following the series “Structuring Your Story’s Scenes” on my blog, then you probably know we’ve been talking about conflict quite a bit. But there is one aspect of conflict that I haven’t covered—and that is, in my opinion, the most annoying type of conflict an author can inflict upon his readers. This is what I like to call false conflict, and it kind of goes hand in hand with false suspense. Both, in essence, are attempts by the author to unnaturally manipulate the story—and, as a result, the technique is basically tricking the reader.

In false suspense, we’re telling readers something exciting or dangerous is happening when it really isn’t. In false conflict, we’re dredging up sparks between two or more characters over issues these characters wouldn’t naturally fight over. I’m going to say this is most common in romantic comedies. The author has to keep the two leads at odds throughout the story, because the moment the guy gets the girl, the story ends.

So even though these people are madly in love, the author throws in false conflicts, such as small misunderstandings that blow up into big arguments, petty squabbles, etc. This sort conflict works within the mechanics of the story. It keeps the characters from achieving their goals too quickly, and it creates the opportunity for interesting situations and dialogue. But when the conflict doesn’t make sense according to the personalities of the characters and the needs of the plot, it’s going to become frustrating to readers—particularly when it’s a little conflict that’s blown up into a big conflict for no good reason. So keep an eye on your story’s conflict, just to make certain your characters are always acting honestly.

Tell me your opinion: What do you think is the most annoying type of conflict?

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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. The kind of conflicts you’re talking about are not just acceptable, they can actually be a great way to subtly explore the story’s “iceberg” – the 9/10 under the water of your story.

  2. Yes, that´s… sort of the point 😛
    I´m trying my best so it won´t be too abrupt, and make the reader understand how she feels.
    I was also wondering about some of the coments I read here, and I do think coincidence is a part of life and a story won´t ring real without some of it. But maybe that´s just because I believe in destiny!

  3. The key to making coincidences work is properly foreshadowing them. If they don’t come completely out of the blue, readers are much more likely to accept them.

  4. You are right… and I do think some times they are more likely to happen than others 😛 Same with what they said about the character not waiting five more seconds… depends on the big picture ^^

  5. Great post. Reminded me i need to be careful while plotting/writing my romantic comedy and that i haven’t seen 10 Things I Hate About You in a while =)

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  8. Two for the price of one! 😀

  9. Well my least favorite type of conflict is implausible conflict. Like: Am I suppose to believe that in this waste land, the protagonist as finding a whole army of space marines?

    Which is why I’m doing something different, where said marines are instead other tribes, who are just in just as much danger as the hero, and each tribe has their own special force that has to take apart weapons to learn how they work.

    I like stories where the protagonist feels like he is the bottom of the food chain, but the said conflict fits in to the setting given in the world building exercise.

    Oh, I had a hard time not choking up, when I thought about some movies where said dramatizing is deliberately made as cheesy as it gets, and hammed up for all its worth.

    I want to have conflict that makes sense in context with the plot, like in Thomas Harris Silence Of The Lambs. (I read that when I was 17, big mistake.D:)

  10. grammar correction: I meant is fighting, not as finding.:3

  11. The conflict *is* the plot, so if it doesn’t mesh well, you know something’s seriously awry.

  12. Exactly the reason I don’t watch rom-com movies, or read chick-lit fiction.

    I hate the way that if these two characters would simply explain themselves, often the conflict can be avoided. Such as the woman walking in on the man hugging another woman. Let’s say it’s his cousin, but the woman doesn’t realise this. More often than note the male won’t tell her until much later, rather than explaining there and then who she is.

    Makes me facepalm.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      At the very least, it makes you realize how lucky you are to live with comparatively reasonable human beings. :p

  13. I read a fair amount of fluff, too, and I see this kind of contrived situation in shoujo manga (manga aimed at girls) all the time. I suppose this is somewhat Japanese chicklit, illustrated, YA edition? A love rival appears and tries to steal the heroine’s handsome boyfriend. She either outright lies to the heroine about the boyfriend, or sets her up by ensuring the heroine sees the rival with the bf in a compromising situation. Instead of talking to him, like most normal people would do, the heroine runs off crying and/or breaks up with her hurt and bewildered boyfriend. A series of contrived misunderstanding follows, which could easily be solved the old-fashioned way, you know, by simply talking to each other. Drives me up the wall!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s always useful for writers to ask themselves, “How would I address this situation in my own life?” If the character’s reaction is totally out of sync with that answer, it’s probably a sign realism is lacking.

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