Random thoughts on getting started with story: creating the central conflict

Ernest Hemingway wrote a book about the conflict between an old man and a very big fish!

Have you ever started a story then given up because it seems weak and pointless?

Have you ever written a story that seems to drag on forever yet goes nowhere?

Perhaps this is because your story has no point of conflict. Stories need conflict to drive the plot forward and create tension. A story without conflict of some kind would be like an action movie where the hero takes a vacation or a romance where the boy gets the girl and keeps the girl from the get-go. Even if your teacher asks you to write a story about what happened on school camp (boring!) you can still write an exciting story if you invent or dramatise a point of conflict.

For example:

  • What  if when you are assigned cabins you find that you are assigned a different cabin to all your friends? That disappointment gives you the beginnings of what could be a story. Then if you overhear your friends laughing about the fact that they told you they’d all put your name on their friends list but didn’t – you have a real conflict and a story.
  • Hearing spooky noises in the night, would also give you the beginning of a story. And if you wake up in the morning to find someone has written ‘House of Doom’ on the outside of the door in what looks like blood, then you drive the story further forward. You are setting up a conflict with whoever wrote the words and you have a mystery. This could become genre fiction – horror, sci-fi, mystery.

The central conflict of your story doesn’t have to be between two individuals. The conflict could be between an individual and a group, between two groups, between humans and the forces of nature, inner conflict with self or even between an old man and a fish! (Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea) Of course, the old man’s conflict is also with the unforgiving nature of the sea and his own struggle with getting old.

About Carol Jones

Carol Jones is the author of 'The Concubine's Child', set in 1930s Malaya and The Boy With Blue Trousers set in 1850s China and Australia. Born in Brisbane, Australia, she taught English and Drama at secondary schools before working as an editor of children's magazines. She is also the author of several young adult novels as well as children's non-fiction.
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