Writing Compelling Conflict: Resolving Conflict

The resolution to conflict, both main and subplot conflict, must be believable. That means it must makes sense for the characters and overall story, and have been reached through a logical progression of events, actions, and decisions.

If conflict resolution does not meet these criteria, the reader will be left unsatisfied and may even lose interest in the writer.

Resolution of the main conflict should be a progression of smaller resolutions, each one wrapping up a subplot conflict that served a purpose in helping the character grow and develop enough to resolve the main conflict. Resolving minor conflicts is key because those conflicts are often the reasons (taken all together) for the main conflict.

Internal change shapes the character’s underlying goals and helps him or her focus more fully on achieving the main goal. Once the underlying goals are better aligned, it is easier for the character to more clearly see how to resolve the main conflict.

It is imperative that the the minor and major conflicts resolve in ways that satisfies the reader and doesn’t leave him or her with unanswered questions. This does not mean that the resolution has to be the expected option or that the reader will like the resolution. It does mean that resolution satisfies the initial questions posed and promises made to the reader at the beginning of the story.

Evaluating Resolution

Reread the first chapter and ask yourself how you want the story to end. Then ask yourself what you are willing to see each character give up in order to achieve that ending.

Do your answers to these questions line up with how the story ended? If not, why? If so, did you fully explore all options for resolution or are you taking the easy, expected way out of the story? Avoid cliched, stereotypical, and unrealistic endings.

If a female main character gives up all of her goals to fulfill the male main character’s goals instead, you are bound to get more than a few eye rolls from readers unless you provide very convincing reasons for that choice. After spending so much time and energy developing strong conflict, don’t short change the resolution by failing to consider all options and making needed revisions that will improve the resolution.

Ask yourself what steps make sense for each character to get from page one to the final resolution. Is anything out of character or difficult to justify? If so, take the time to rework or flesh out unsatisfying points of a character’s development. If you can fully develop the character’s journey and individual points of conflict, the resolution will flow from that journey to a satisfying ending more easily.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Adding Depth

Even if you have developed strong conflict for the main plot, you may still end up with slow sections or lackluster moments of character growth. Layering conflict in small ways adds depth and can make a big different in the overall appeal of a story.

Progress and Failure

The main conflict should be complex enough to last the entire length of the story. Ending it too early creates endings that drag on for too long. Conflicts related to subplots or specific instances of learning or growth can be resolved within a few chapters.

It is important to remember, though, that conflict progression should not be a straight line. It should reflect a roller coaster motion, making improvement or completing steps toward a goal, then failing or hitting a new stumbling block. This back and forth motion prolongs and heightens the story’s conflict, adding depth and realism.

Anticipation and Expectation

Once readers know what a character’s main goal is, most will be able to intuit the necessary steps the character will need to take to achieve that goal. If you as the writer follow those steps in a straight forward manner, the reader will become bored.

Determine what steps need to be taken, then create situations or outcomes that will derail or delay those steps being completed, causing the character to have to take unexpected routes to continue on their journey.

Make sure the character is fully invested in the expected outcome and make it clear to the reader through internal dialogue and conversation how much he or she anticipates reaching that goal. This raises the personal stakes of failure for the character and helps forge a bond with the reader. When failure and setbacks happen, as they should, the reader will share the character’s pain and frustration.

Other character’s expectations can be a powerful way to add depth to conflict as well. If a character’s friend or partner either doesn’t believe she can reach a goal, or puts an excessive amount of pressure on her to meet a goal, this also raises the stakes of failure and heightens the reader’s anticipation of character development. The character not only needs to reach his goal, he must also battle with consequences of the outcome on others.

Building Suspense

Conflict and suspense are not the same thing, but they are often closely related. Suspense surrounding whether or not the character will push through conflict to reach a goal keeps the reader wondering whether the character will be successful. If the reader is too sure of success, the reader may lose interest.

Adding stumbling blocks, internal uncertainty or fear, and situational problems into a story keeps the reader from developing too much certainty about how the story will end. The suspense of not knowing keeps the interest level higher and can help develop a connection with the reader.

Fears and Faults

The reasons that a character struggles to achieve a goal aren’t always external. In fact, they shouldn’t be only external because that risks progress toward a goal becoming repetitive and predictable.

If a character can always talk herself out of a problem and never faces any repercussions, the reader will not be concerned about failure. If, however, a character self-sabotages even the most promising situation out of fear of an employer developing too high of expectations, the reader will constantly worry about how the character might bomb a situation.

Internal obstacles provide a deeper source of conflict because internal conflict is often much more difficult to overcome than external conflict. Internal conflict comes from trauma and old wounds. Neither of which are easily repaired.

Disadvantaged Starts

A story’s inciting incident is often seen as the start of the main conflict in a story. It is not the beginning of all conflict involved in a character’s journey. The reasons that a character struggles to achieve a goal are often rooted in their past experiences and situations.

Consider what disadvantages your character is starting with and how those will play into the storyline. Whether physical, financial, emotional, educational, or mental, everyone has sources of conflict they battle daily. Draw on these to develop meaningful stumbling blocks. The more personal the hindrance, the more believable it will be.

If a character is too close to achieving a goal when the story starts and there is not enough conflict in reaching a goal, the journey won’t be very interesting. Make a character have to work to achieve their goal.

Reveal Slowly

The main question that keeps reader engaged in a story is: what will happen next? When readers connect with characters and situations, they become invested in the outcome. If the answers are given too early or too openly without any work on the part of the reader, he or she may loose interest quickly.

Only give the bare minimum that the reader needs to understand what is happening in the scene. Do not reveal full backstories or motivations without good reason. Make both the character and the reader work to learn what he will face and whether she will succeed.

Be patient and detailed when fleshing out conflict in a story. Success should never come easily or in the most commonly expected way.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Types of Conflict

When considering how to add complexity to the conflict in a story, it’s important to cast a wider net on what types of conflict you are considering. Don’t stop at old emotional wounds in romance, a lousy boss in a workplace drama, or fear or the future in a coming of age story.

Developing Complexity

The first thing to consider when adding or developing complexity to a story conflict is that the stakes have to continue to raise throughout the story or it will stagnate. This often entails multiple sources of conflict that arise as the story progresses.

Ways to increase the stakes in a story might include:

  • Making the main goal become more desired or needed because of changes in circumstances, such as a desired promotion becoming absolutely essential when a character is threatened with losing their housing unless they can come up with additional funds
  • Adding an external factor, such as an antagonist threatening harm if the character doesn’t back down from pursuing a goal
  • Bring someone else’s well-being into the conflict, such as a family member falling ill and needing additional care or financial help
  • Increase the reward or cost of failure, such as losing custody of a child if a character cannot stay sober and provide a for a child’s physical safety

Power Struggles

Another avenue for adding complexity is to create a power struggle. This raises the stakes of the conflict by creating more desperation. It is not only the character who needs to achieve something in this situation. The character also has to stop the antagonist from achieving a goal in order for him or her to achieve theirs.

Types of power struggles might include clinging to something the character has power over or needs to gain power over, or a bid to escape oppression or danger. Power struggles are relatable for most readers and utilize high emotion that can forge a connection with readers.

Time Conflicts

Adding a time conflict to a situation adds complexity because the character is no longer free to work through a problem in their own time. He must race against a deadline to figure out a solution. This heightens emotion and stress, and reduces possible options for solving the problem. It also set a specific deadline for the reader to focus on, which can help form a deeper bond with the character.

Love and Romance

Adding elements of love and romance to a story whose main genre is not romance can heighten other areas of conflict. Emotional bonds can create interconnected barriers between goals and desires. In an office setting, a romance may complicate career progression or lead to hostility and drama. Personal growth-focused stories can be affected by romantic entanglements when the relationship hinders or complicates reaching personal goals.

Work Conflicts

Difficult situations in a work environment can complicate a character reaching her goals. Situations might include being asked to break personal morals in order to please a superior or client, stressing or breaking a relationship by taking unearned credit in order to secure a promotion or favor, bullying or sexual harassment creating a hostile work environment, etc. Such stressors at work then spill over and complicate other areas of the character’s life.

Conflicting Perspectives

Perspectives that don’t line up stresses relationships, whether romantic, friendship, work-based, or familial. Pressure to change a perspective or do something that does not line up with a character’s perspective becomes a barrier in reaching goals or making desired changes. Consider how moral, religious, political, environmental, ethical, etc. perspectives might create internal and/or external conflict for a character.

Powerful Internal Conflicts

Complex characters do not always do the “right” thing or make good decisions. Making mistakes or poor choices helps add complexity to a story’s conflict. However, characters must come off as empathetic on some level.

Readers don’t have to like or agree with everything a character does or believes, but there should be at least one aspect of his or her personality that a reader can connect with. Harsh or unlikable actions should be based in an internal trauma or personal torment a reader can sympathize with and understand.

Without powerful internal conflicts, a difficult character will simply be unlikable. Such internal conflicts create obstacles for a character achieving his or her goals. If a reader can understand the reason behind the behavior or belief, he or she will still be able to root for the character to overcome the obstacle and succeed in reaching the goal.

Going Beyond the Main Storyline

Subplots are excellent opportunities to add these layers of complexity to a storyline. It allows different conflicts to be weaved together and cross-impact each other. Subplots can nudge characters into actions or choices that affect the main storyline and provide depth that would be difficult to achieve within only the main storyline.

A singular focus on the main storyline limits complexity and opportunities for character growth.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Complexity Between Characters

How complex conflict in a story needs to be can depend on factors such as length or genre, but it should always be complex enough that characters have to work to get through it.

If the main conflict can be resolved in a paragraph or two, it is likely too simple and unrealistic as the main source of conflict.

While some writers are more storyline focused that character focused, character are still an integral part of developing complex conflict. A great place to start when integrating characters and conflict is to develop inherently conflicting characters. Jane Austen’s works are prime examples of pairing up conflicting characters, such as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

All stories should have complex and conflicting characters, but in character-driven stories, conflict MUST start with the characters in order to provide believable opportunities for growth and development. Internal conflict is key in character driven stories. Differences in personality, beliefs, desires, or goals will push characters away from each other, creating a stumbling block they must work to overcome if the relationship is to work or the goal is to be met.

This type of conflict may be derived from aspects such as specific character traits, race/nationality, political/religious/morals views, money, career, family, social status, long terms goals, etc.

Conflict Between Groups

This same idea can be expended to character groups. Conflict between specific groups can create obstacles for a character reaching their goal or desire or achieving personal growth. Members of specific groups (work, social, athletic, racial, religious, etc.) have certain types of goals or core beliefs.

When pitted against a character with opposing goals or beliefs, he or she is forced to make difficult choices or changes. This can be a great source of internal conflict with external ramifications.

It’s important to consider this type of conflict when initially developing a character and setting the goals the will work toward in the story. Once you have each character profile compiled, compare the profiles of the two main characters.

Where do their goals clash? How will those opposing goals hinder a relationship (friendship, romantic, or familial)? Determine whether the opposing goals are deeply held enough to provide rich and believable conflict or if they need to be further explored and developed.

Love Isn’t Enough

Resist the urge to lean too heavily on the “love conquers all” idea. While we all might like to believe that love will fill in the gaps between conflicting desires and goals, it doesn’t. Not long term, anyway. Readers know this and need more than love to explain why the story will continue to work out after the last page.

Giving up too much or making too many personal sacrifices that aren’t met equally will eventually lead to resentment and distancing. It isn’t necessary to explain everything, but if you have succeeded in creating complex conflict between two characters, put an equal amount of effort into making sure your explanation for why it will work out in the long.

If a character changes a core belief or goal, there needs to be a strong and valid reason for that change, and falling in love isn’t enough of a reason by itself. Something needs to change internally for the character. External reasons for change are often short lived.

Sacrifices between characters may not be equal, but there should be a balance that makes sense for the story and characters. If one character gives up or changes a major belief or goal and the opposing character gives up nothing and only gains, this will not feel believable or long lasting to most readers. Both opposing characters need to grow and change.

Looking at Jane Austen again, both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had to make internal changes and reevaluation their goals and desires by the end of the story. If only Elizabeth had changed to be less hasty to make judgments of others and Mr. Darcy was allowed to remain haughty and dismissive yet win still Elizabeth over, the ending would have felt dissatisfying and unrealistic.

When developing conflict in a story and between characters, take the time to determine whether it is complex enough to be believable and create a satisfying ending for readers.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Crisis vs Conflict

The difference between crisis and conflict may seem slight, but it’s very important and can have a huge impact on a story.

Crisis is an event or action (an emergency), while Conflict relates to the impact of an event or action on a character or characters. Think about an action movie versus a drama. Action films focus on events, and often have a succession of events that add more crisis up to the climax. Dramas are more focused on the fallout, rebuilding, or working through involved after a crisis or trauma has occurred.

Crisis cannot sustain an entire story (in most cases) in a realistic manner. It’s exhausting for readers to be constantly immersed in major events. Conflict, however, is the basis of a strong story arc. There are events and crises woven into the story arc, but there is also time between events for development, growth, reflection, failure, and change.

Crisis centers on action, excitement, and/or danger. The reader’s attention is intended to be held by constant new events. This method often leaves too little room for character development and meaningful story progression. It relies on highlights rather than deep diving.

While Conflict does include action, excitement, and/or danger, it centers on how the characters experience the events, how living through a crises affects him or her, and how each individual character recovers from a crisis or deals with the consequences.

To illustrate the difference, consider these examples.

Crisis: Someone holds up a bank and the character witnesses a fellow customer get killed.

Conflict: The character survives the hold up and is plagued with fear for her safety, is having difficulty functioning at work, and is pulling back from relationships.

Conflict deals with long term effects of crises and can involve in multiple interrelated crises over the course of the story arc. Crisis is a single event, and instigates conflict. This is why it’s important to have a balance of the two. Use crises to spark dramatic change, but develop conflict through the character’s thoughts, emotions, and actions that are caused or exacerbated by the crisis. This provides more opportunities for development and growth and will ultimately create a deeper and more engaging story.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Realistic Progression

Developing realistic steps and reaction in critical in planning and writing great conflict. Readers need to be able to connect with and understand a character’s choices, even if he or she doesn’t agree with or like that decision.

Conflict in Romance

Love at first sight doesn’t mean smooth sailing into the sunset. A fast and intense beginning to a relationship often leads to belated problems because the couple makes decisions before they are prepared to make them or before they know each other well enough to accurately evaluate the situation.

Friends to lovers romances are great opportunities for conflict. There is often fallout with other friends and family, and the problems that come with knowing each other too well, such as knowing all of each other’s part relationships and indiscretions.

Workplace relationships face many external sources of conflict in addition to the usual internal conflicts. Company policy may force the characters to hide their relationship, staff may accuse them of favoritism, if the relationship fails they still have to work together, and so on.

Internal and External Progression

If the main conflict is largely internal, a character must take logical steps to address it. This may include therapy, opening up to another character, confronting someone who hurt him or her, etc.

External conflict, such a two coworkers going for the same job and being unable to keep work and their relationship separated, takes delving deeply into emotions and actions.

The conflict progression may look something like the characters not talking about it, to slipping in disparaging comments at work, to taking specific actions to derail their work or respectability. As the risk that they might not get the job over the other intensifies, so will the emotions involved and the willingness to take action.

A great example of this comes from the film, “What Women Want.” The progression focuses on two coworkers vying for dominance in the company and the progressive actions Mel Gibson’s character takes as he becomes more desperate to win despite having fallen for the female main character.

Planning Progression of Conflict

When planning the progression of conflict, first consider what the character wants (their main goal) and what major actions he or she needs to take to achieve that goal. Aim for 3 to 5 major actions, depending on the length of the story. Then consider how these actions might be thwarted, go wrong, or have unintended consequences.

Next, comes up with possible reactions to an action not working out as expected. Consider several options before settling on one and ask a few questions. Is the reaction realistic or contrived to support the writer’s goal or ideal progression? Is the reaction true to the character? Does the reaction provide opportunity for character growth and story progression?

If you aren’t sure about the answer to any of these questions, write several scenes using the different options and have a friend or beta reader read them and give honest feedback. It’s easy to push a story in a particular direction based off what you want to happen or how you want the story to move, but that can lead to forced, illogical, or weak reactions to conflict.

Characters may be fictional, and the author may be the creator of the universe, but conflict must move through and interact with a story and its characters in a way that makes sense and feels realistic.

Writing Compelling Conflict: The Stakes

For conflict to be truly meaningful in a story, there must be real stakes involved for the character. It is important to establish those stakes early in the development of the conflict so the reader is aware of how not reaching a goal or fulfilling a journey will affect the characters.

What are Stakes?

Simple put, the stakes are what the character risks by failing.

Don’t put limits the types of risks of failure or on how a character might be affected. If a relationship fails, yes there will be emotional trauma, but there might also be a ripple effect of losing other people from his or her life, a decline in self-esteem, negative affects on job performance, etc.

Explore all types of stakes associated with failure, then focus most on the stakes that will have the biggest impact, which might not be the most obvious one. This risk MUST matter and be big enough that the reader feels anxiety over the fact that it could all fall apart and harm the character in some way.

Failure to finish a degree or accept a job in order to relocate for a relationship can build resentment. Failure to confront something in the past can push a character to run from a current relationship. Failure to prioritize a relationship over work/money/ambition will result in missed opportunities and damage a relationship.

Risks can be internal or external.

External risks are those that would cause physical harm. These are often most at play in adventure, crime, mystery, thriller, etc. types of stories where the character’s physical safety is at risk if they fail to escape, finish a journey, solve a mystery, etc.

Internal risks are those that cause emotional or mental harm. These types of risks can be at play in just about any story type. Romance stories often focus on the emotional trauma of a relationship ending or losing a loved one, however the mental wellness of a character should also be considered. Personal growth or coming of age stories often do focus on mental wellness aspects of how a character is harmed by a trauma or the development and growth need to overcome difficult experiences.

Be sure you are considering and weighing the various types of risks and avenues of how a character might be affected when developing stakes in a story. The more layers, the more depth and realism a story will hold for the reader.

A great example of setting and developing meaningful stakes in a story is the film “Run, Fat Boy, Run.”

The main character Dennis signs up for a marathon after his ex-girlfriend’s (who he ran away from on their wedding day while she was pregnant) new fiancé brags about running the race. Whether or not the Dennis actually finishes the race doesn’t really matter to anyone but him. He needs to fulfill an internal goal of proving he can finish something difficult and not run away. There’s no external risk of him failing to finish the race, but the internal risk is quite high.

Once you have identified the main stakes for your character in not reaching or achieving a goal, take the time to develop 2 or 3 smaller stakes that add concern from the reader and deepen his or her emotional connection to the character.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Relationships and Conflict

Relationships are excellent sources of conflict for a story.

After identifying internal and external wants for the main characters, note where their goals/desires come into conflict with their relationship goals. These are opportunities to develop stumbling blocks in the relationship and on an individual level.

The relationship in question doesn’t have to be romantic. Family and friend relationships are also important opportunities for conflict and can also have a strong impact on a character’s development and growth.

If one character in a relationship feels driven to excel at work because he or she craves financial stability due to growing up destitute, while the other character is working toward moving to a small town where life is simpler, this will inevitably cause stress the in relationship and move the characters toward a crisis where both parties have to make difficult decisions. Those decisions will then impact the relationship and the individual characters.

A great example of this is from the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” One character is trying to save her small, independent bookstore while the other is trying to build and promote his mega-bookstore. Neither goal is inherently bad, but there’s no way they can both win. This destroys their chance at a relationship, at least in person.

Conflict and Growth

Each obstacle should be paired with something the characters will learn, either on a personal level or within the relationship. Conflict without purpose does not move the story forward or help the characters progress through their arcs. Each stumbling block placed in a character’s path should necessitate a choice, spawn realization, or push him or her to take action.

Getting through conflict does not always have to mean positive movement or growth in a relationship, however. Characters may make the wrong choice or suffer/cause emotional or mental harm and experience a setback rather than growth. Conflict should do both in a story, though the ultimate outcome is typically the characters reaching a resolution of some sort in their relationship. People in relationships often hurt each other and say things they don’t mean during arguments. Follow up these moments of setback with self-reflection or discussion with a neutral party who can offer some clarity.

Moments of conflict in a relationship may be internal or external. Ideally, a mixture of the two will provide variety and a more interesting pattern of growth in a relationship and in the individuals involved. Characters and relationships are most often in need of development in several areas. Alternate between what skills or areas of progress characters are challenged on as they move through the arc.

Obstacles should be introduced in a logical order and each one should be resolved before the end of the book. The exception to resolution would be some relationship obstacles being saved for subsequent books in a series. When ordering when characters face conflicts in a relationship, consider how a real person builds on skills or developmental steps. Learning not to internalize negative feedback from an abusive partner would be achieved before taking a stand against an abuser and leaving, just as learning the basics skills or a sport is necessary prior to playing at a competitive level.

Without conflict, relationships stagnate. Planning and executing moments of conflict in a character’s relationships will improve their depth as a character and inspire movement and growth in the story and character arcs.

Writing Compelling Conflict: Characters and Conflict

Characters and conflict are close companions in any story.

Even if the main conflict is external, a character must experience and react to it. A massive snow storm is less interesting if no one is there to be snowed in, put in danger, or unable to access food or medical care. Internal conflict depends on a character’s thoughts and emotions to be relevant and engaging. There is no internal conflict without a character to experience it.

Pairing Character and Conflict

In order to develop interesting conflict for a character, you must identify what the character wants. These should be internal and external desires or goals. If a character does not need or want anything, they will not only be incredibly boring, there will be no important stakes for them when challenged.

Internal goals may be feeling loved or having a stable life, offering or seeking forgiveness, developing self-confidence and overcoming fear, etc. A goal should have a definable and attainable goal. This helps both the character and reader know when of if the goal has been achieved.

Internal goals may impact external goals. An external goal like getting into a prestigious performing arts school may depend on and confidence to get through a rigorous interview. Lack of confidence could result in a poor interview and missing an opportunity.

External goals may be getting a promotion and ensuring financial security, completing a difficult task, or taking a risk on a relationship where the other person has potential to cause the main character harm of some sort. The character has less control over external goals because they are more profoundly impacted by situation, other people, or society.

The Revelatory Nature of Conflict

Conflict reveals truth about the character. What that truth is depends on the character and story. A character may seem charming and easy going until just the right button is pushed and they explode, showing their true colors under pressure. Conversely, a shy or weak-willed character may take a stand or speak out when she or someone she cares about is threatened, showing true inner strength uncomplicated by overthinking of pressure from others.

Choices and actions reveal the character’s thoughts, motivations, weakness, and strengths. When choosing what conflict to make use of in a story, consider what skills or attitudes the character needs to develop and what situation will push them toward change. A lazy character will never put forth major effort unless he is faced with a situation where complacency will cost them more than they are willing to lose.

The more difficult the choice or action, the more that is revealed. A character who may tells white lies to survive a hostile work environment may be able to rationalize away minor dishonest decisions if there are no real consequences to her actions. That same character may be appalled and go to authorities when asked to participate in fraud that would hurt others.

The more the reader learns about the character, the more connected they will feel to him or her. The conflict should be meaningful and realistic enough that the reader feels an emotional connection to the character’s struggle to make the right choice.

Conflict and Change

Happy characters don’t grow or change. They must face crises in order to progress through their journey. When developing the character arc, two to three pivotal changes the character needs to make. These may be learning a skill, overcoming a shortfall, developing emotionally, etc. You can then work backward and choose a crises/conflict that will force the character to make choices and grow in a way that helps them make that change.

Conflict forces characters to act, which then necessitates change.

Writing Compelling Conflict: The Purpose of Conflict

Conflict drives a story. Lack of conflict or weak conflict makes a story drag and languish. Unrealistic conflict drives readers away.

What is Conflict?

Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces. In fiction, a character struggles against another force, such as another character, the environment, him/her-self, etc. There can also be multiple forces the character is at struggle with. In fact, there generally should be multiple forces. Usually this is accomplished through subplots and competing needs or desires.

Conflict can be broken into two categories: Internal and external.

Internal conflict arises when a character experiences opposing emotions, ideas, or desires. The conflict causes emotion or mental anguish and often manifests in external struggles in relationships, professions, or meetings goals.

External conflict arises when the character gets involved in a situation where he/she struggles against an outside force which stunts his or her progress toward a goal. This is typically marked by action of some kind. The type of action depends on the storyline and goals.

The Purpose of Conflict

Conflict is what keeps readers reading…until it doesn’t. Conflict keeps the story moving forward by pushing characters to make decisions, take action, and engage with the story world. If there is no action or the action isn’t compelling enough, that progress stops or slows to a point that readers may lose interest.

Developing deep, rich conflict will keep readers engaged and interested. Change in the story and character push the reader to keep asking questions, such as what will happen next or will the hero accomplish her goal. Wanting answers to those questions are a big part of what keeps a reader’s attention.

Conflict also helps a storyline feel more realistic. When everything works out too easily, readers get bored and move on because they know that in real life things rarely go so easily. Readers want there to be struggles in a story. They relate to the character’s experiences because they struggle to accomplish goals in their own lives.

The deeper and more realistic the conflict is, the more the reader will be drawn into the story and become invested in the outcome. Conflict helps the reader see his or her self in the story. Believing that the character will succeed or meet a goal helps gives hope that the reader will eventually have a similar outcome.

Having said that, conflict should make the reader doubt that everything will work out happily. If it is too obvious or certain that the character will get everything he or she wants despite facing challenges, it can cause the reader to lose interest. Remember that questions and the need for answers to those question compel the reader to keep reading. If those questions are too easily answered, interest flags.

Even in romances, where a Happily Ever After ending is often required, how and to what level the characters end up happy should not be obvious to the reader in order to maintain a questioning experience.

That doubt keeps readers engaged with the storyline.