The Conflict-Driven Plot

As I’m editing through The Thrilling Adventures of Clara Delaney I’m asking myself a lot of questions.  What works? What doesn’t work? What should I do for the next book?  Overall it’s a pretty solid story, but where are the weak points?

My biggest difficulty: conflict.

I am perfectly happy watching my characters sit around and get drunk or talk for the entire book, which does not make for entertaining reading.  This is troublesome for someone who wants to write space adventures.  

So here are some ideas for creating conflict.  And a lot of questions to ask yourself when you need to push a change in plot.


Know Their Motivation

Your characters will not always be on the same side, and that goes a lot deeper than the usual “good VS evil” dichotomy that most genre fiction is so fond of.  An antagonist worth reading about isn’t just motivated by being evil– they need a reason.  The same goes for a hero: doing good for the sake of good is boring.

So think about what drives them, from their day-to-day needs to their overarching narrative.  Conflict arises naturally when two heroes find themselves at cross-purposes, not when a hero and a villain clash.

I don’t really believe in villains.


Know Their Background

Cultural values, privilege, personal history: everything that makes a person who they are is a source for conflict.  What do your characters value? How can it be endangered? What do they fear? How can you make that happen?


Change Them

Taking the previous point deeper: how can you change those values? How can you challenge them? How do you want your characters to change over the course of the story and what’s going to cause that?

A lot of this is just basic characterization stuff, but if you’re a character-driven writer, as I am, this is how you form your plot.  Put people at odds, force them to find a solution, and watch how they grow.

It’s working for me so far.


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