Yesterday I said “It’s the way a character reveals him or her self through the struggle with the central conflict that keeps us turning pages.” The first time I heard that sentence it simply went in one ear and out the other. But it kept coming back over and over again. Apparently there is something to it.
So let’s look at it.
Conflict is important because it generates questions which can be used as hooks. When you have a central conflict not only do you naturally generate all kinds of hooks, those hooks line up in a pattern which provides the reader with a sense of something greater and more significant going on.
With a collection of conflicts rather than a central conflict the story feels episodic or disorganized. It’s possible to chose a pair of central conflicts which interact with each other and end up with something brilliant, but don’t count on it.
The right kind of central conflict can make it easier to build the book toward the climax, thus not only providing a structure, but the providing the kind of structure readers enjoy most.
So what’s the right kind of conflict?
Something that is not easily solved. If it’s simply a misunderstanding between hero and heroine then they end up looking stupid for not talking it out quick enough. If the antagonist is easily dealt with then the hero and heroine look indecisive for not dealing with him or her.
Something not impossible to solve. If the conflict comes from the nature of the hero and heroine such that changing either of them to accommodate the other would make them less noble, less kind, or otherwise less worthy then it’s impossible to believe they will or should stay together at the end.
Ideally the central conflict will allow you to delve into deeper, more meaningful aspects of human nature. If it involves archetypes then the resulting book is a lot more likely to be a keeper.