A story without conflict…

…well, that’s just not a story. Conflict is essential to story. Without it, there’s nothing to tell. It’s just, “Two ducks existed. They lived in harmony. The end.”

Yesterday I got a beta reader request that began with, “It is a romance story that has no conflict, just pure adorableness.”

What this writer meant was that the story contained no violent conflict. Your story doesn’t have to include explosions and carjackings for it to have conflict. It doesn’t have to include a murder or even one person slugging the other one. You don’t even need a “fight”.

What you need are two (or more) characters with conflicting goals/wants/needs. That’s it.

Let’s say that Sir Duckington wants to buy a red car, and Lady Duckworth wants to sell a car. No conflict, they’re both going to get what they want. No story.

How about if Lady Duckworth’s boss has challenged her to sell the last blue car on the lot? Now she’s motivated to try to change Sir Duckington’s mind. Maybe he doesn’t really mind a blue car. Still no conflict. But, if Sir Duckington is dead set on a red car, has always wanted a red car, cannot imagine driving anything but a red car, then you have a conflict.

We now have a story about Lady Duckworth struggling to change Sir Duckington’s mind.

No violence necessary.

See, when we say “conflict” we don’t mean violence. We just mean conflicting goals.

The writer who reached out to me actually summed up her conflict just by mentioning the genre: romance. The “will they/won’t they?” question is inherent in romance. That’s conflict. We make the assumption that the story will be about the individuals overcoming obstacles that keep them apart. Romance and mystery are unique in that they immediately suggest a story question (“Will they solve the mystery?”).


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