Developing Your Story Conflict

On this page, you'll find advice on developing a story conflict and plotting your story. At the bottom of the page are links to more resources on how to write a story.

Recently, a student sent me the following question:

"Do you have any advice for someone who starts a story and is having trouble creating and working through a conflict? I'm starting to write something and trying to create a conflict I can't quite piece together with the rest of my story."

In case you, too, are struggling with narrative conflict, I wanted to share the advice that I gave her.

The student said she was having trouble fitting conflict into her story. But, generally, conflict is what a story is about, not something that has to be fit into it.

For example, let’s say you’re writing about a dinner party. You could describe the first course, the second course, and the dessert, and what people say. You could fill ten pages with that. But you wouldn’t necessarily have a story. Things happen, but there’s not anything giving them a shape, holding them together.

What gives a story its shape is normally a plot. And plot structure is based on conflict. Most stories boil down to the following “formula”: A character struggles to solve a problem, taking various actions in the effort to get the problem solved..

So, going back to the dinner party: your story might be about...

  • A character struggling with her relationship with a difficult parent (the struggle is the problem).

  • An argument that takes place at the dinner table (the argument is the problem).

  • A character’s romantic interest in a man who is interested in another woman (his lack of interest in her is the problem).

If you’re having trouble developing your story conflict, try following these steps:

  1. Identify something that your character really wants, the character’s goal in the story.

  2. Identify a problem or an obstacle in the character’s path, which the character MUST solve in order to reach his or her goal.

  3. Think about what actions the character will take to try to overcome the problem or obstacle and reach his or her goal. And think about what new problems or complications might arise as the character takes these actions. The character’s actions to deal with the problem, and the consequences of these actions, will be potential events or scenes for your story.

More help with developing a story plot

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