Conflict Keeps Interest: Basic Storytelling Elements Part 8

Welcome to my ten-part series where we’ll be going through the ten basics of storytelling as outlined in my guidebook The 10 Lost Elements of Storytelling – a book you can get for free by subscribing to my newsletter! In these posts, we’ll pound out the basics of these storytelling elements, but my guidebook is more detailed on some subjects and provides examples and resources. All you need to do is say “yes” to receiving a fun, inspirational, and educational newsletter once a month.

You might be surprised to hear that constant conflict is something that’s missing from many modern stories. What about the huge battles? The car chases? The explosions? Those are definitely conflicts! But there are several kinds of conflict; the kind that most stories are missing are the subtler ones.

When we think “conflict,” our brains immediately go to a physical fight (or at least mine does), but that’s just one of many kinds of conflicts that should be in a story. You can’t just have the entire story be a fight scene – though I’m sure some have tried. There need to be subtler conflicts. Emotional turmoil. A conflict of interest that complicates a relationship. A character struggling with their place in the world.

These kinds of conflicts can be just as captivating, even though they’re not as flashy. As I’ve stated many times, storytelling, even within books, has become too visual, taking after popular movies. Everything has to be showy and flashy. It’s okay if there’s little substance as long as it looks good. And so, conflicts are reduced to punches and kicks. There may be some moments of inner conflict, but the tropes are so overused by now that no one cares. And yet, these subtle, usually internal conflicts are the ones that carry us through the story. These are what will keep us engaged between gripping physical conflicts.

And actually, a story doesn’t need physical conflict – a fact that many have largely forgotten. Think of the great classics; hardly any of them have actual action sequences. They’re all based on conflicts with relationships, self, nature, emotions. And it’s strange that these have fallen by the wayside because they’re the conflicts that people will connect with the most. The majority of people won’t find themself in a fistfight with an enemy, but they will struggle with self-doubt.

This is how you fill the portions of your story that seem boring: you add conflict. A subtle kind. It can even create a whole subplot in your book. Once the conflict is there, things instantly get interesting, and readers will sit on the edge of their seats. The surest way to make sure readers don’t stop reading is to fill your story with constant conflict, even in quiet moments. There’s always a sense of unease, always something not quite right. And then, the ultimate resolutions at the end will be that much more satisfying.

The moral of the story? Conflict is key. With consistent (and relevant) conflict, you’ll keep readers’ attention all the way through the book. Remember, it’s not just action; life is full of all kinds of conflict.

You can learn more about conflict in my free guidebook – all you have to do is sign up for a fun monthly writing newsletter here!

Happy writing!
-E.J.

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Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

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