Let’s pretend for a second that a story is the same thing as a car. Let’s say our creative mind concocts an idea that might as well be a beautiful, cherry-red, brand-spankin’ new Ford Mustang. Do you know what we need to get the vehicle moving? Literally, gasoline. Figuratively, conflict! Conflict is the gasoline that drives our stories forward. Every story needs conflict, because without it, our fancy ideas are just going to sit in the garage.
In Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, Debra Dixon says the goal is the what (to learn more, check out the G in GMC), the motivation is the why (to learn more, check out the M in GMC), and the conflict is the why not. Let’s reacquaint ourself with Jimmy John.
Goal: to win a pie eating contest
Motivation: because he wants to prove he’s a man
What kind of story would this be if Jimmy John has a great two months of training, enters the contest, and wins? Talk about boring. We need something. And that something is the Why Not? Why can’t Jimmy John win the pie eating contest? What stands in his way? There could be any number of things. Maybe he’s competing against his big brother, who’s appetite is bigger than a horse. Maybe Jimmy John is super poor and can’t buy the pies he needs to practice. Or maybe he’s got a horrible case of IBS. I could keep going. The point is, every story needs a why not. Because without a why not, why should your reader care? Without a why not, how is your character going to grow?
Debra Dixon says: The strength of your book is your conflict.
Wow, that’s a big statement. However, it’s important to keep in mind that all the conflict in the world won’t mean a thing if we don’t establish an important goal and a compelling motivation. If Jimmy John doesn’t really care all the much about winning the pie eating contest, or he only wants to win because it would be fun, it won’t matter how many obstacles I throw in Jimmy John’s path, because if Jimmy John doesn’t care that much about the outcome, why should my readers?
Some things to know about conflict:
-It can be anything, as long as it prevents your character from reaching his/her goal
– Every page needs it
-Villains make excellent conflicts (Jimmy John’s older brother)
– Internal conflict brings out emotion
– Be careful not to go overboard with the conflict. You don’t want to numb your readers
– Bickering is not conflict
– Misunderstanding is not conflict
– Setting can increase conflict. How many horror films take place in creepy settings?
– Fish out of the water: Throw your MC in a situation that is so far out of his/her comfort zone that conflict is inevitable
-And the ever famous, two dogs, one bone. Pit your characters against each other. They both want the same thing. Automatic conflict. (in Beneath a Velvet Sky, I do this. The bone is the farm, and the two dogs are Evan and Bethany)