From Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Edition: Con•flict: the opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction.
I'm getting ready to start a new scene. I have some general ideas but what I need to nail down before I get started is the conflict.
In Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict she has a couple of warnings regarding conflict:
• Unrelenting conflict or throwing "everything but the kitchen sink" at the character can numb the reader.
Okay, I need to be selective. I need to pick the worst thing, not every thing. Got it.
• We've all seen movies that we thought would never end. By the time the hero kills/arrests the bad guy, we don't care anymore.
Get in and get out. Make my point (maybe I'll build it up a little) then let go. Also, don't resolve this conflict, then hit my character over the head with another one. Ad infinitum. Got it.
• Another pitfall, which stems from fuzzy conflict, is erratic or slow pacing because you wander through scene after scene trying to get a handle on what the real battle is, what the character's real problem is.
Thus this little period of time for me to focus and identify and know for sure this is what my character doesn't want the most, even if they don't know it yet. Hope to get it.
Dixon also makes this very good point: Let me warn you . . . if conflict makes you uncomfortable or you have difficulty wrecking the lives of your characters, you need to consider another line of work.
Donald Maass reminds us in Writing the Breakout Novel to pick a story world that isn't safe. It's hard to write a great novel about the suburbs. Try and pick a place steeped in conflict. Where there is conflict, there is rich soil in which to plant a story.
Continuing later in Breakout: . . . the conflict must matter to us; equally, our interest level will decline in ratio to how removed we feel from those involved in a conflict.
In other words, I need to make sure my character is likable and that the conflict is more than an in-grown toenail. It has to matter. It has to be big. It has to hold my reader's interest.
I think there's one more thing to add about conflict. It has to be relevant. It needs to be believable. No one is going to believe my bookstore owner in Aspen Falls is conflicted by an automobile accident in Amsterdam involving people he doesn't know. Okay, that's a little far-fetched. I'm just saying. . . .
Still reading: Kill Me. I really like this book.
Working on: Off to do a bit of brainstorming about the conflict in my scene and . . . how it moves the story forward.
It's all better with friends.