Or, more to the point, fiction writers forget that conflict is what drives all story forward. Whether you’re writing a romance, a historical novel, fantasy, or a thriller, your story hinges on conflict.
The whole point of a novel is to create and then resolve conflict. Truly, your story only begins when you first introduce conflict, therefore (and here’s the point I want to stress) it is critical that you jumpstart your novel by throwing the main character into terrible conflict within the first ten pages of the story.
Notice how many times I used the word conflict? It’s an important word.
Yes, three dimensional, fascinating character is critical so that we care about their conflict, but without that conflict there is no story.
Yes, we must love the setting, the colors, the dialogue, but until we enter into conflict, the story is only being set up. In a nutshell, the story begins with conflict and ends with the final resolution of that conflict. Period. The wrap up at the end is just saying goodbye.
If your novel is about a man strapped to a chair with a ticking bomb bolted to the back, the story begins with the first tick of that bomb. Spending the first few chapters talking about the weather will interest climatologists unless the weather itself is part of the conflict.
Diving into the conflict early not only hooks the reader, it forces you to know what your novel is really about and the sooner you get down to business the better.
So throw your character into terrible trouble within the first ten pages or so of your novel and, assuming the reader cares about the conflict and finds it plausible, they will be hooked.
This, then begs a critical question that few writers (even experienced ones) really take the time to understand, thus their continued tendency to delay and minimize conflict. The question is this:
Why do readers care so much about conflict? Why do they get hooked? Why—whether the conflict be ideological, physical, intellectual, or emotional—are we all, as writer and readers, so taken by both the conflict and its resolution?
The answer is simple. We all live in the conflict of our own life-story, and long for resolution either through escape or through overcoming.
As soon as you offer conflict, you have the reader’s attention. They, like you and your character, live in deep conflict most of the time, even if they aren’t immediately aware of it. Not enough love, not enough beauty, not enough excitement.
Too much responsibility, too much pain, too much heartbreak. You name it, conflict is the name of the game in this world of polarity where something good is at odds with something not so good.
Understand this, breathe this, accept this and you will be breathing the same air your readers breathe. They will identify with your characters and long to see whatever resolution they find at the end of the story. As such, your novel is more than a great story—it’s medicine for the reader’s soul.
Grasp this simple concept and you will have avoided one the deadliest mistakes made by authors and write the kind of story that heals all of humanity on one level or another. There is no better drug.
You see how simple it is?