Conflict may fall flat for a variety of reasons. If a source of conflict is not providing the needed progression or reader interest, consider why it isn’t working.
Conflict, particularly the main story conflict, cannot come from a single source and be realistic and effective. A mix of internal and external conflict is needed to support a full story arc.
Consider which type of conflict the story is most heavily leaning on and work to balance it out. If internal conflict is dominating, create more instances of external conflict that relates back to the main internal conflict and pushes the character to develop new skills or grow in some way. These often appear in subplots and focus on individual skills or traits the character needs to develop.
Conflict that is not complex enough is boring and too easily resolved to hold the reader’s attention or provide meaningful opportunities for character growth and development.
This is another great use for subplots that can raise the stakes of the main conflict, make the character’s faults and weakness have a bigger impact on the main storyline, and make the character fail more often.
Provide ample opportunities for the character to learn and grow or the change needed at the end will feel too abrupt and unsupported to be believable.
If the conflict a character faces is not impactful enough or too easily resolved, delve deeper. Figure out what the source of the conflict is rather than focusing on how it manifests. Dig until the character is bare, then use that knowledge to create more meaningful obstacles.
If the reader can see what is coming a mile away, he or she will get bored and move on. Do not set a character on the first path that comes to mind without exploring all the options.
Develop unusual paths for growth, obstacles that arise from unexpected sources, and resolutions that may end the way the reader expected (such as a happily ever after ending) but do not come about in the expected way.
Examine each trope or tactic used and come up with an alternative way to integrate it, such as a character losing the job she spent the whole book working toward but being offered an alternative that will use her skills in an unexpected way.
Conflict in a Bubble
A story and its sources of conflict should extend beyond the page. Conflict that exists in a bubble often occurs due to lack of backstory development and consideration of the character’s future.
That final scene kiss in a romance won’t be as delicious if the reader is left feeling like the characters are underdeveloped and incapable of sustaining the relationship long-term.
The characters of a story did not come into existence on page one. Their lives prior to the story beginning brought them to the moment that takes place on page one. The characters’ current situation will have important impacts on the choices and actions made and taken throughout the story. Consider how a character got to page one and how past experiences will complicate or hinder his or her future.