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.