The fifth way to add tension to your writing is to add an element of conflict. Oh, you say, you hate conflict. Then you’re thinking of it the wrong way. Conflict doesn’t only mean two people quarreling, although it can be that. It means two different entities in opposition to one another. Here are some examples:
Man vs. Man
Conflict can be between two people: children arguing over a toy, two adults wanting the same parking space, or a wife feeling neglected by her husband. But it can also be two people with opposite personalities placed in close proximity. Remember Oscar and Felix? One was a slob and the other a neatnik? How about two roommates at college, one is sophisticated, glamorous, the other overweight and athletic? Children who populate the family who have their own unique set of personality traits that naturally clash. Sitcoms do this all the time to great effect.
Even romance is a considered conflict. Two people who are attracted to one another, yet fearful of rejection, trying to get to know one another with everything at stake, their heart, their future. Will this work out, or won’t it? One of the reasons romances are so widely read is because of the “conflict” of romance. You might be writing a murder mystery or general fiction, but consider an element of romance to heighten the tension.
Conflict is also violent: murder, robbery, and even war. These topics populate modern literature, and even the Bible, for good reason. Readers pick sides. They have an inborn sense of justice and they want the good guys to win and the bad guys brought to justice. Don’t think you’d ever write anything like this? How about a third party stealing the beau in your romance novel, or your main character being accused unjustly of a misdeed in your mainstream novel?
(Next week I’ll talk about Man vs. Nature)
I love what you had to say about conflict. Sometimes the conflict can even be within yourself. It’s important to have that as it urges the reader to keep reading the story.
When I think of conflict drama comes to mind. We all say we hate drama in our own lives as we’d like to have everything nice and even. There is a movie that comes to mind. It’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” There is A LOT of drama in this as both the hero and heroine are trying to win a bet. The heroine is trying to discourage him from like her and the hero is doing everything to keep her around even though she is driving him crazy. The best lines though comes from a supporting actress. She says this two or three times throughout the movie but it sticks out in your head. It’s simply this, “Drama, drama, drama.” It makes you laugh because it’s so true.
As write the more drama we have, or conflict, in our writing the better. It makes us happy. Yet in real life, keep it away at all costs.
Thanks for this feedback. I agree about keeping drama out of our real lives. Who wants it or needs it. But in our novels, the more the better. In an upcoming post, I’m going to discuss Man vs. Himself (Herself)
Another excellent article, Judy! Thanks for the encouragement to keep my characters conflicted.
Thanks, Kate, for your comment. You do a great job of this in your book Pennsylvania Patchwork.