Character Conflict in Stories

Character conflict in Silence of the Lambs
Character conflict in Silence of the Lambs

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We’ve heard it again and again, character conflict is essential to writing stories that are page turners. It is what drives the story forward. Without conflict the story stalls and falls off the high-wire.

But how is character conflict achieved? Here are some reminders:

Character conflict checklist

1. Is more than one character pursuing a similar goal or avoiding a similar problem? Stories about a race of some sort contain such conflict.

2. Does the conflict affect the protagonist’s inner and outer goals? In The Nostalgia of Time Travel, the protagonist, Benjamin Vlahos has to resolve his inner conflict resulting from the suppression of past memories in order to survive a category five cyclone.

3. Is the character conflict the most interesting and compelling it can be? In Scarab the protagonist has to decide between tempting the wrath of supernatural forces and the love of a woman.

Unlike in real life, character conflict forms the basis of most interactions between the story’s players. It gives rise to the polarity between the “good” and the “bad” events that creates the story itself.

4. Can a deadline force an action or decision that is less than the best? Having a bomb set to off at a specific time, or a runaway train set to derail at a certain point on the track, raises the tension and conflict in the story.

5. Can a “solution” actually cause a worsening of the situation? Having a character killed off to silence him can have consequences that increase the conflict between characters.

6. Can you implement the opposition to the goal in a more dangerous, powerful way? Instead of having the antagonist try to stop the protagonist from attaining the goal by going after him directly, he goes after his family instead.

7. Is there something or someone, apart from the antagonist, keeping the protagonist from achieving his goal? In Silence of the Lambs, Clarice’s disturbing childhood memory of lambs being slaughtered allows Hannibal Lector to get inside her head.

8. Are there conflicting goals among the minor characters that increase the friction between them?

Doubtlessly, you may add to this list, but this is a good start.

Summary

Character conflict forms the basis of all drama. Using a combination of two or more of the above-mentioned techniques will ramp up the conflict in your stories.

Published by

Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

2 thoughts on “Character Conflict in Stories”

  1. Good post. conflict is what makes content interesting and is a great springboard to get a story going. In the animated feature Rango the protagonist is literately tossed into conflict . Can you imagine how boring the movie would be if it were about a lizard’s journey inside the safe environment that is his container. Also real life drama can also be a great source for conflict. The world of professional boxing is characterized by corruption and scandal. Boxing promoter Cedric Kushner offers a contract to the heavy weight champion of the world who’s manager has signed with Kushner for the boxer’s next fight. Rival promoter Don King gives a brown envelop of have a million dollars that makes the manager sign with Don King. – it’s all about money.

    In short : Real life drama can inspire great fiction.

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