June Writing Series: Writing Realistic Conflicts

Every Friday in June, we’ll be posting a blog in our series on how to improve your writing. From how to write dialogue or conflicts to how to improve your grammar, our June Writing Series is dedicated to livening up your story so that it’s ready for self-publication. 

Miss our first post in the June Writing Series? Read it now!

Every story, no matter the genre, depends on some kind of tension or climactic point. Whether it’s romance, historical fiction, western, or science fiction, a story needs a conflict. It can be difficult figuring out how to write this conflict, though. A lot of books can fail because their main tension falls short somehow: it feels forced, unrealistic, unlikely or, possibly the worst, boring. It’s important to know how to write conflict in a story – how to make it palpable to the reader without going overboard.

There are 7 types of narrative conflict that can arise in a story.

  1. Person vs. God
  2. Person vs. Person
  3. Person vs. Society
  4. Person vs. Nature
  5. Person vs. Self
  6. Person vs. Supernatural
  7. Person vs. Technology

For the sake of this blog post, we’ll only be looking at a few (but if you want to learn more, check out Daily Writing Tips)

How to write conflict between characters

One option you may choose is to have to two characters dislike each other. It’s the classic protagonist/antagonist. Man vs. man (or woman vs. woman or woman vs. man – you get it). Whatever the conflict may be, it has to be realistic. Two characters can’t be mortal enemies because they got into an argument over who was going to pay the bill or what dessert they should eat.

Decide who your characters are. Give them something intriguing, unique, and believable to argue about / fight about, and get writing. Maybe you’re writing a spy thriller, and the tension there is that the bad guy murdered the protagonist’s wife. Or, maybe you’re writing a romance novel, and tension arises when one character cheats on the other.  

It’s easy, sometimes, to fall into the trap of thinking that everything we write is amazing or flawless. But to be a good writer, you absolutely have to step back and ask yourself Is this good? Does it make sense? Or am I biased? There’s always time to revise.

Tension between characters and the world

Whether it’s person vs. nature, person vs. society, or person vs. supernatural, tension will arise from hard work, research, and good writing. Research is absolutely crucial in these moments. Whether you’re writing an apocalyptic horror novel, a political scandal novel, or a vampire or werewolf novel, you absolutely need to do your research. What would the U.S.’s response to an apocalyptic situation look like? Study up on CDC protocols. What would happen if a Senator was caught in a treasonous scandal? Look up treason cases. What would a vampire look like? Act like? Read Bram Stoker and research lore.

Research may seem like it’s boring, but it’s a critical step in deciding how to write your novel and how to create conflict.

How can you create conflict between a person and their self?

Another popular conflict is person vs. self. In this familiar trope, a person struggles to overcome some aspect of their personality or some behavior, and the story finds its tension in this struggle. Whether it’s a story about a person battling an alcohol dependency or it’s a story about a person who suffers from anxiety, person vs. self conflicts are so impactful because everyone can identify with them in some way. Every reader has struggled with something in their life, and a person vs. self conflict is a great way to get them to relate with your novel.

Conflict is a natural part of any story. Without it, the story falls flat. Do your research, invest time, and don’t be afraid to revise.