We call books “a page-turner” — these are books that can hold the suspense of a story from the creation until the end. The only ingredient you need in this recipe for tension is conflict.
If you are growing your knowledge about how to write a fantasy novel or any other book — conflict plays a vital role in any form of storytelling. Before we dive into the “how,” we must address the “what.”
What Is Conflict?
The conflict is the essential crux of a story. It provides a reason for the story to set higher stakes and give reasons for an ideal resolution. The intention of a story also stems from a conflict.
As the word suggests, conflict is a disagreement between two opposing ideas, forces, or thoughts. This difference will eventually propel the narrative of the story ahead with meaning.
To state an example: a protagonist of a book (or a film) faces a dilemma that changes the faith of the character. This change is called the conflict in the story. It can be with oneself, another character (the antagonist), society, etc.
In some fantasy of SiFi novels, this can also come from a supernatural power, nature, technology, or a holly-power.
Why Generate Conflict?
A story without a conflict is merely monotonous surveillance footage. The conflict causes a rise in actions that will move the story ahead. They help build tension and add challenges in the way of the main character. They can also fulfill the other two primary needs:
The start of a conflict is the start of the story. And when this problem-at-hand reaches its resolution — the story is said to finish. Without a conflict, there is no purpose in the story.
For example, in a murder-suspense-novel, the death of the character is usually the conflict. We call it conclusions once we know who committed the crime and the motive for the doom.
Progress Character Arch:
The second and more important point to consider when you wonder how to outline a novel is the character arch. The conflict in the story should bring about a change in the character. As the story grows, the characters in them resolve innate issues.
Let’s consider the same example above; in a murder mystery, the detective deals with the case. As he/she comes closer to the concussion of mystery; they (and the readers) also uncover some traits about this character.
It is the use of conflict that triggers this domain effect of revelations in the story.
Relationship between Conflict and Suspense.
Bring the spotlight back to the subject of focus — the most common use of a conflict is to keep readers hooked. This trait is what we called suspense. Well-written suspense is what makes a book a page-turner.
To build suspense, however, a single conflict will not do the trick. Real tension occurs from a series of disputes that crescendo to a feeling of “What will happen next?”
Most seasoned suspense writers place a conflict in the story, just as we sense a conclusion is around the corner. This use of conflict should enhance the narrative and not prolong it.
This suspense helps keep the readers on the book and lead them from one situation to the next. We find this feeling of anticipation in most horror and action movies. The best suspense evolves when the readers care for the character and wish to explore the story forward.
While suspense does come from conflict, it is not the only way to create them.
Writing the Perfect Conflicts.
1. Create Obstracs for the character
The problems in the way of the character are the most common form of conflict. Raise the stakes by adding an optimal amount of roadblock in his/her way to resolution. If your story has a “hero” character that always wins, then it lacks depth.
Do not think of a conflict to add drama to your story; these can also be simple inabilities in the characters, conflict in relationships, and much more.
2. Understand the need for Conflict
A conflict without reason is a mistake in the storyline. The ambivalence should come seamlessly to the story and do not sound absurd to the reader. It should add value to the story and not be used to increase the number of pages.
For example, the most popular fancy book-series of our time is Harry Potter. In each book, Potter faces conflicts from his past or characters from his school.
The inappropriate use of conflict here would be from a love interest or a supernatural power. These conflicts are incorrect since they do not compliment the story’s narrative and would eventually confuse the reader.
3. Focus On the Antagonist
As much as a protagonist leads the story ahead, the antagonist makes the story interesting. An antagonist is anyone or anything that throws obstacles in the way of the protagonist. This character (or trait) is the anti-protagonist.
In a perfect story, this opposing force should be as natural and healthy as the protagonist. Making this character stronger will further enhance the suspense of resolution. These will not just create a storyline-conflict, but also an emotional conflict.
4. Sustain the suspense in the middle.
The start and the end are the easy parts of the book to master. The middle is where the true nature of a good book is defined. By venture of the hold on the reader, the book’s middle should progress the story but without the fluff.
One way to do this is by adding subplots or character-conflicts that add value to the story. To consider this in gaming-terminology — these are the “side-missions” that the character must finish to reach the boss.
A parting word of advice — read more of what you want to create. If you are looking to write the perfect suspense, then read more books that derive that.
Reading other stories and/or screenplays are an excellent way to keep the mind alert to these practices. Remain mindful of conflicts in any tale and make notes of points that interest you. The ideas here are not to emulate but to learn.