Everyone knows that there's no story without conflict, right? I mean, if you're writing a story, you should have figured this out. But here's the thing: sometimes people just throw in a conflict for the sake of drama (::cough - nearly every show about teenagers ever - cough::), but they don't seem to understand that drama as a phrase, and the actual thing that is drama are not the same thing. The first one is just people fighting for no good reason. Think reality television. The other is a literary device that is closely linked to the struggle over the central conflict of the story.
So when you're deciding what your characters will be fighting for, here's some things to ask yourself and to find good answers for:
- Is the conflict personal for at least one, and preferably more, of your characters?
- Is the conflict both internal and external--just just other people or the world harping on your character, but some actual struggle over some Big Idea inside the character's own heart and head?
- Is the Big Idea in question closely tied to the core of the story? If your story is about a guy trying to get out from under some oppressive social injustice to save the world, is his internal struggle over those things? If he's worried about something unrelated to social issues, family issues, Good and Bad, or personal doubt, maybe you should rethink that some.
- Do the characters in the book reflect different opinions on the central conflict, and act in ways that cause plot-useful other conflicts? Do these other conflicts have as much meaning in the context of the story as the main one, or are they just there to be convenient?
- Is the resolution of the conflict the main problem of the story? Because it should be.
- Is the conflict too literal? Being totally literal--a war story about people shooting each other, only-- is simplistic and boring. Try working out a war story about how ideology makes it so that people do things they wouldn't normally do, and then have to deal with the emotional and mental fallout of having become something they aren't.
- Is the conflict a believable outgrowth of the pasts of the characters AND the history of the land?
- If the conflict can be dealt with just by talking to each other, it's not really conflict; there has to be a good reason they aren't talking to each other, not just childish stubbornness. Are they incapable of talking? Is there so much history and bloodshed that they have no common ground? Are they speaking different languages, or trying too hard for opposing goals?
- Is the conflict big enough to run a story, but not so big that it's insurmountable? Nothing kills a story so well as setting up a challenge the hero/s can't get past.
- Is the conflict multifaceted so that different characters can take different takes on it and act on them?