It’s well known that every story must have conflicts. That’s the reason even most children’s books and movies have at least one argument, bad person, or any twist that elicits an, “Oh no!” Controversy plays a part in everyone’s life, so without it, a plot comes off as unrealistic, uninteresting, and/or even gag-worthy.
Conflict is an aspect of creative writing that takes time to develop, however. When we play pretend as kids, don’t we often throw in obstacle after obstacle? At that age—and beyond—, many of us incorporate that into our writing, putting characters into peril time and again.
I wrote my first draft of what became Forgetting My Way Back to You in my late teens and early twenties, and in retrospect, I saw that I fell victim to this trap. Once I read it the second time, I realized a couple of my characters were a wicked cackle away from being Disney villain! Since I wasn’t going for that vibe, I weeded out a lot of the cruel words and schemes that plagued the manuscript…and eventually removed those personalities altogether.
I ran into this issue with Husband in Hiding, as well. A few readers grew tired of the protagonists’ arguments. While I felt that I’d limited them and only placed them in suitable contexts, those opinions helped me to see that entertainment is an escape from reality. Thus, some might not enjoy reading about all the traits real life has to offer.
Another caveat that needs to be considered besides the quantity of conflicts is the quality of them. We’ve all had the experience of listening to somebody else venting about a disagreement or problem they have with another and wondered what the big deal was. Everyone has their own triggers, and naturally, so will our characters. To cultivate a reader’s empathy for them, then, we have to either make their struggles relatable to most people or give sufficient background information that illustrates what makes the character tick—or have a tick, in some cases.
In an effort to keep a plot both realistic and pleasurable, an author needs to find a balance. Of course, certain genres call for more conflict than others. Regardless, it’s another instance where we have to know our readers and put ourselves in their shoes. In turn, they’ll step into the world we’ve created and go through the story’s conflicts and victories with us.