Monday, May 12, 2014

Conflict: Digging Deeper by Annette M. Irby

woman reading*
Whether you’re a pantster or an outliner, you probably have an idea what your central story conflict is as you begin writing. If you don’t, your writing instincts will kick in and demand one before you get too far. You’ll find your own story boring, and a conflict will beg invention.

Since conflict is so necessary to your story, you’ll want to ensure yours is strong enough to carry through the entire book. (Though, sometimes the central conflict transitions over the course of the story, which is fine.) Throughout the book, you’ll remind readers of the conflict. But there’s a fine line with reminders because a reminder can feel redundant, and redundancy renders conflict less effective.  

The key through the middle of the story is to keep readers engaged, and a fading conflict can defeat that goal.

Here are some tips for avoiding redundancy in regards to your story's conflict:

** Approach the conflict from a different angle. Perhaps from another main character’s point of view, or from an outsider’s perspective (as shown through the POV character’s perspective).

** Dig deeper. Is there another facet you can zero in on to help readers care more? Give us an aspect we haven’t seen before.

** Add another layer to the problem. This will give fresh weight to the conflict and cause the stakes to motivate readers to keep reading. For example, it was one thing when the late payment notice arrived, quite another when the eviction notice came.

** Add more stakes. Make things personal. For example, a school in lockdown is serious, but a gunman inside is an emergency. For a parent of one of the students, this situation is a crisis. High stakes keep readers committed to seeing the story through.

** Ask yourself if the conflict should transition as the story progresses. Does the change you imagine fit the story? (Be careful that the shift doesn’t feel contrived.)

Of course, there is a lot more that goes into keeping the sag out of the middle of your story, but by maximizing conflict, you’re more likely to hook and retain your readers.

Your turn: Have you read a book (or your own manuscript) where the conflict wasn’t strong enough to keep you reading? What are some ways you’ve kept your story’s conflict from feeling redundant? 


One of your hostesses here at Seriously Write, Annette M. Irby writes fiction, edits freelance, and works in acquisitions for Pelican Book Group. She loves encouraging writers because she appreciates all that others have done for her. Learn more at her editing website or her author site


* Photo credit: woman reading by stockimages at


  1. It appears I have used at least one of these suggestions in each of my books, but it's always easier to critique someone else's book and determine what it lacks than figuring out what mine needs. Thanks for the awesome suggestions, Annette. :)

    1. That's so true, Dora. That's when I'm thankful for crit partners. Happy writing!

  2. Wonderful suggestions, Annette. I have had a book where the conflict wasn't as strong and I had to layer and add it in to make the story interesting.

    1. Thanks, Terri. Stirring up deeper conflict goes against our nature in life, doesn't it? Then, we get to pack it into our character's lives. All for the sake of keeping our readers hooked. Write on!

  3. Great post, Annette! You know I love conflict in novels.

    One of the most redundant things in Suspense, or Romantic Suspense is the good old line "time was running out." This always makes me cringe.

    One way I avoid this in my stories is to tie it more directly to the scene. If I want to use the time element, I make sure it comes out more like: If Sally didn't get to the bank by noon, she'd never get the money for the ransom. Then Brad would be dead.

    Or better yet, sparingly use the elements that are most common to your genre.

  4. Great tips, Michelle. It's always better to show that clock ticking down than to tell it. Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Hi Annette, great reminders. In the western genre, I heard advice once that is things slow down, or conflict is thin, burn something down LOL. Yes, I have read some books I can't finish...I just hope that isn't happening to readers of mine, sheesh. Loved the post.

    1. Thanks, Tanya. Love that--burn something down! Or, hey, thriller writers could blow something up. ;) It's all about keeping those readers hooked on that line, right? Happy writing!

  6. I like the idea of approaching conflict from a different angle or point of view. I know I forget that others may see the situation in a different light.


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