Stary Writing Camp: How to Design Conflicts?

Ace Author Club
6 min readJul 20, 2021

A story is composed of different elements, such as characters, background, and plot. Different elements combine so that a complete story is formed. The plot design is the key to ensuring that the story goes smoothly and attracts readers, and it contains elements such as conflicts and dialogues. In this article, let’s talk about conflicts first.

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I. What is a conflict?

Conflicts constantly appear in writing. A conflict can be a triggering event, a difficulty, or a threat that is faced by a character in the story. A conflict is like a stone thrown into a lake. Its essential function is to break the balance and change the life-state of the characters.

II. The composition of the conflict

A completed conflict is composed of background, process, and result. When conceiving a conflict, we must thoroughly consider these factors. Most of the conflicts we talk about refer to the conflict itself or the event, but we cannot ignore the background or the result of the conflict.

1. Conflict Background

As for the conflict background, there is no need to add too many factors to the context. The background should be clear. A good background has the following effects:

  • Shows the character’s previous life
  • prepares the readers for the next conflict

2. Conflict Changes

The conflict generally leads to a change, such as:

  • Character changes. These include changes in appearance, emotions, personality, and social relations.
  • Plot changes. These include changes in the story’s rhythm and narrative perspective.
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III. Conflict Types:

1. According to relations, conflicts can be divided into:

  • Conflict between characters

The most typical conflict is between the protagonist and the villain. Characters oppose each other because of their opposing interests, concepts, feelings, etc. The two sides will have verbal and/or physical confrontations.

  • Conflict between characters and the environment

When a character suddenly comes to an unfamiliar environment, there will be a period of uncomfortable adaptation. During this process, there will be conflicts between the character and their environment. They could be due to differences in customs and social rules. Such examples are more prominent in werewolf stories and fantasy stories. When the protagonist travels between the werewolf world and other fantasy worlds, he will feel the conflict from the environment.

  • Conflict within the character

For a character to be good, especially if he is the protagonist, his personality must develop and change. He must have a “Character Arc.” He must overcome some of his shortcomings, such as arrogance, timidity, or ruthlessness. When a character faces a series of events, he must overcome external conflicts (others, environment), overcome his inner shortcomings, and complete his growth cycle. Only by resolving the conflicts within himself can a character be considered a success.

2. According to nature, conflicts can be divided into:

  • Emotional Conflict:

Feeling versus no feeling

Strong relationship versus broken relationship

Loyalty versus betrayal

Mate versus rejected

Real emotions versus contract marriage/family marriage

  • Family Conflict:

Family integrity versus family fragmentation

Recognized/child in Marriage versus not Recognized/love child

Wife versus lover

Harmony and caring versus abuse and injury

Wealth versus decline

IV. The methods of showing the conflict:

  • Dialog
  • Action

Let’s take Obsession with My Forced Wife as an example to analyze how to design conflicts in a story. This time we will center on the protagonist, Lance, a domineering billionaire.

Lance’s self-conflict: Because of the death of his parents, Lance harbored hatred for the McLean family, but he fell in love with Evelyn McLean. This conflict inevitably caused an emotional crisis between Lance and Evelyn, and Lance must learn to deal with this conflict.

The conflict between Lance and others:

  • In regards to Evelyn: Lance loves Evelyn. He initially regarded love as a charity, but Evelyn wanted equality and respect. This conflict will affect the emotional development between them.
  • In regards to Penelope, Lance’s ex-girlfriend: Penelope was by his side when he was at his worst, but she failed to withstand the temptation of money and reputation. She abandoned Lance and married a middle-aged billionaire. Later, after getting divorced, Penelope came back to Lance and tried to win him back. When Lance faces Penelope and Evelyn simultaneously, he will experience some emotional confusion until he finally figures out who he loves most of all.
  • Regarding Kerwin, Evelyn’s classmate, an admirer, and work partner: Kerwin has always liked Evelyn. He and Evelyn used to pursue the same dream in the movie industry. Even though Evelyn married Lance later, Kerwin would always show up and help Evelyn at critical moments. Kerwin is a threat to Lance, so there will be some confrontations between them. Because of Kerwin, Lance will also understand his love and possessiveness for Evelyn.
  • In regards to Diesel, Lance’s former enemy in the mafia: Diesel later married Evelyn’s sister Debby, so Lance and Diesel became in-laws. When he meets Diesel again, Lance needs to learn to deal with his complicated emotions and the relationship between Diesel and the mafia.
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The conflicts between Lance and Evelyn are not entirely emotional. We can also design some conflicts in their workplace. For example, why not arrange a competition about film and television scripts, where Evelyn participated, and Lance is the boss? Lance won’t cover Evelyn, though, and he doesn’t believe that Evelyn can win the competition. However, Evelyn will prove to herself, and to him, that she has real talent.

If we want this conflict to be more intense, we could add another character. How about letting Penelope participate in this competition? Penelope was confident that she would win first place, but Evelyn disrupted her. Evelyn did not expect that her most potent competitor was Lance’s ex-girlfriend. Then, Lance has to decide between his ex-girlfriend, Penelope, and his wife, Evelyn. This way, the conflict has become interesting.

The above conflict is about the protagonists. Are there any conflicts between the supporting actors?

Mikael, Lance’s good friend, is a playboy on the surface, but he is an arms dealer in private. Mikael is a good business partner of Lance and knows many secrets about Lance’s business. He will not betray Lance, but he will be the intelligence target for everyone to spy on.

Genevieve, Evelyn’s good friend, is a lively, enthusiastic, and lovely girl. Genevieve deliberately approached Mikael to find information to help Evelyn, but she accidentally fell into Mikael’s love trap.

Mikael is like a cheetah. He has been dormant in the jungle, but he is ready to pounce on his prey at any time. Poor Genevieve thought she had control of the situation, but she was wrong. She was exactly what Mikael was looking for as a target. There will be many emotional entanglements between Mikael and Genevieve. They will be about temptations, lies, traps, and love.

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As you can see, we have designed a lot of conflicts. The time, place, and process of these conflicts are different, leading to changes, especially changes in characters. If a conflict does not change the character, then it is a failure.

In the above example, we can easily predict the changes in Lance in the whole story. Lance has changed from an indifferent, arrogant, and loveless Mafiosa to a gentle, firm, and considerate husband. Every conflict helps Lance understand some of his inner feelings and allows him to make some changes. Through these conflicts, the image of Lance becomes alive, and the story becomes more tortuous and exciting.

The importance of the conflict should be self-evident. Happy stories and characters with no twists are boring. During the characters’ journeys, conflicts are like hooks that help authors to catch readers. If readers open a book and find the characters living ordinary lives where nothing happens or changes, they might choose to stop reading. The more pressure the characters are put under, the more engaging the story will be.

Start designing some conflicts and putting them in your story. You will find that conflicts make ideas bubble and boil over in your mind, and you will soon complete a great chapter! More practical writing courses are now available at Stary Writing Camp. You can also join the Stary Writing Academy Facebook group and share your ideas about writing conflicts with more than 70,000 writers!