A significant while ago, I wrote a story elements post about conflict. Today, I'm thinking again about conflict for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I'm back to working on editing Hunter Hunted again, and I've just gone through and done a conflict check in all my scenes. In honour of the completion of this momentous task, and because I have a story I want to tell you later in the week, I thought I might do a series of posts on conflict :)
Consider the above linked article the baseline; read it first if you haven't already. It talks about what conflict is, which is always a good starting point.
Today, I want to talk about where conflict comes from.
A lot of people hold a somewhat misguided perception that the only kind of conflict that really deserves the name is aggressive conflict, where people are fighting, be it physically or verbally. This, my friend, is not so; aggressive conflict is just conflict's most obvious form. Understanding where conflict comes from helps to debunk the aggression-is-the-only-conflict myth.
So where does conflict come from?
Hopefully, your story has a main character. Check that: do you have an MC? Yes? Good. *pats* O:) Okay, I speak somewhat faceciously, but truly, the MCness of a character can be problematic, especially in large-cast stories; for example, HNOT has temporarily stalled for many reasons, but partly because of feedback I received that said that although Mercury is the MC, Deviran reads like the MC.
Have an MC. Know who they are. Make sure they know they're the MC too :D
So, having an MC, the next Really Helpful thing to know is what they want. When everything else is stripped away, who is a person? Usually, this comes down to their driving force, the one thing they value over everything else, the thing that motivates them. Cutesy tests have been designed to help you figure out what motivates someone, but motivations can be diverse, they can change, and there can be smaller goals on the way to larger ones. For example, your MC's long term motivation may be to rescue their kidnapped sister; their immediate motivation in the present scene might be simply to survive, now that the creepy-stalker-person has hunted them down.
2) Something that drives and motivates them.
3? Something that stands in their way. Someone, often. That someone (which, yes, can be themselves) or something is your antagonist. It too has a need. In the example above, creepy-stalker-guy really needs to kill the MC so that MC can't rat them out to the police. Needs can be more subtle, though. In the MC against self situation, your MC could be torn between the need to support their family through the present crisis, and their equally pressing need to escape the smothering restraint thereof and find a life wherein they can breathe.
Either way, we have two strong, driving needs, and they oppose each other. That's where conflict comes from: opposing needs. The stronger the needs, the stronger the conflict, in a way that is totally separate from the degree of aggression involved.
Conflict: every story needs it, and it doesn't have to be an argument. How does your conflict shape up?