One of the most important aspects of a novel is the conflict within it. Without conflict, you might have a lovely little tale, but it will be boring, and little will be the keyword because it’s hard to sustain a story without conflict.

There are two types of conflict within a novel: internal—the conflict that resides within the protagonist (a need for love, friendship, or revenge), and external—that’s a tangible conflict usually also related to the protagonist (trying to get a job, recognition, or power), it’s often the bulk of the story.

These two types of conflict are what drive your character to act, and their actions are what drive the story forward—it’s why it’s so important to have an active protagonist, not just one who will sit back and allow the world around them determine their life. Your active protagonist will react to the conflict that is holding them back from attaining their goals and, possibly, they’ll actively go out and seek conflict in order to move forward with their goals.

Some authors have a particularly hard time writing conflict. They fall in love with their characters and just don’t want to put them into any uncomfortable situations. They give them a goal and then make it easy to achieve it. But by doing this, they are cheating their readers of the satisfaction of struggling with the characters and then ultimately overcoming whatever it was that was standing in the characters’ way. There is no way to have a satisfying ending without the struggle, without the conflict.

Not only does the conflict in a story increase the struggle of the characters and, therefore, the pleasure at the end when they’ve achieved their goals, but it is through hard times that people grow. If everything in life were easy, there would be no need for people to change or learn. It is through struggle, through conflict, through hardship that we become stronger, better people. So, too, do your characters need that difficulty in order to grow and develop throughout a story.

But what about now, in today’s world? Do we still want to read about conflict? Might readers wish, instead, for a sweet, easy, happy story rather than one filled with difficult times?

Right now, we are all living in a world filled with conflict. Filled with difficulties, death, economic distress, and sickness. We are, in short, living in a horror novel (Stephen King has even commented on this!)

So do we really want to read about others in such a situation or any sort of difficulties at all?

The short answer is yes.

No matter how painful our real lives are, a novel will take us away from it.

A novel will not only provide different sorts of difficulties (hopefully—unless you’re reading a story about a pandemic), but the conflict isn’t actually happening to the reader. They can take comfort in that (it’s horrible to say, but many take comfort in the fact that someone else is having an even worse time than they are). Also, in most cases, the book is going to have a happy ending. Sadly, we know that this virus outbreak isn’t going to end well for everyone.

There is, also, the relief that we get from reading something that is set in a different time or place. Escaping our everyday life can be relaxing—and this isn’t true only for readers but for authors as well. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that since the lockdown, I haven’t actually been able to pick up a book and read, but I have been able to escape into my own writing. I can remove myself from this world and place myself into the world of my novel. When I do, I become happier and find it easier to deal with my ordinary life. But that doesn’t mean that I’m skimping on the conflict in the world of my novel because doing that would be doing a disservice to both my characters and my readers.

So while you are living in this conflict-filled world, dealing with difficulties you probably never hoped to see in your own life, or perhaps not having any problem beyond boredom as you are locked into your home in order to stay safe and healthy, don’t forget the conflict in your novel. Don’t skip that part just because life is a bit more difficult just now. And who knows, maybe by making your character’s life worse, you’ll end up making yours better.

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