Whether you’re writing a fiction story or a nonfiction story, you need conflict to create a good story that keeps the reader’s attention. By definition, there are two sides to every conflict. Your job is show the conflict so well that your reader has someone or something to root for.
Simply put, conflict is confrontation–tension between characters or tension between factions of the environment or tension between characters and the environment.
What you’re really striving to write is action and suspense, better known as drama.
Here’s the formula: Effective drama creates exciting conflict that eventually develops robust action and substantial suspense. You instinctively knew that already, but now that the formula is simplified for you, you’re more apt to notice it in your own reading.
As always, you want to show, not tell, your reader what’s happening. When your reader creates the mental image of what’s going on in your story, he or she becomes more engaged and willing to root for one side or the other in the conflict.
Basic story plot requires someone wanting something (a goal). Something gets in the way (conflict). That something creates trouble for the character or for what the character wants or for the way the character can get it.
Characters get into trouble by something they do or by something done to them. Show the reader how the character solves the problem. If there’s action involved, show the character’s feelings (fear, anxiety, anger). If there’s suspense involved, show the character hiding, waiting, feeling dread of being caught.
Sometimes a character’s trouble comes from within. Show the reader how the character struggles with a problem such as betrayal, feeling too strongly (love or hate), or dealing with other internal conflicts. Show the reader the choices the character faces, then show the reader the action the character takes to move in the direction of one choice or the other. Keep the reader guessing about which way the character will finally go.
Keep the reader in the action of your story. You can do this by writing in present tense. Another way is using language that creates images in the reader’s mind. Active verbs help this. Which of the following two sentences creates a better image for you? He drank his beer. He guzzled his beer. A third way to keep your reader in the story is to appeal to the reader’s senses. Choose words that remind your reader of how something feels, smells, sounds, tastes, or looks.
Good stories require conflict. I hope these ideas spur some drama in the stories you write. Happy writing!