How to Enhance Conflict in Fiction Writing
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How to Enhance Conflict in Fiction Writing

The process of fiction writing, whether you are inexperienced or experienced, is one that requires creativity, concentration, consideration, conciliation and many other factors – not all commencing with the letter “C”. It is easy to get caught up in the creativity of what you are writing to such an extent that you lose sight of what is right and wrong as far as technique is concerned. Or it could be a simple matter of being unaware that what you have written can be changed to have a bigger effect on your characters. One of the most important elements of any story, whether it is a romance or any other type of fiction, is the Conflict. It can make or break a story. This article shows by example how changing one character fact can enhance both the external and internal conflict of a story to ensure that the protagonists have to struggle to resolve both their external and internal conflicts to save their blossoming romantic relationship.

The important role of conflict in a fiction story

It doesn’t matter whether you are writing romance or any other genre fiction, a strong, external conflict is a necessary element of any story. It is important to establish the external conflict as close to the beginning of the story as possible/ From this external conflict springs the internal conflict of the main players in your story. Both of these conflicts need to be credible and ongoing throughout the story with resolution as close to the end as possible.

External Conflict - arises when what the characters want from life, or how they go about achieving their goals, puts them in conflict with each other.

Internal Conflict is how the two protagonists feel about the External Conflict – what is happening inside the character’s mind emotionally.

In traditional romance stories, there is usually one external conflict with each of the main protagonists having an internal conflict that is linked to that conflict. In general fiction and other genres/sub-genres, there is the opportunity to have more than one external conflict involving the main character and other players in the story. This promotes great prospects for internal conflict to be included. It also allows the story to be more complex.

An example of how to up the ante in the conflict of your story

Quoting an example is the best way I know to show an external conflict that has some flaws and how one adjustment to the storyline can solve the problem of connecting the external conflict to the internal conflict of the characters.

In a publishing submission I read many years ago, the writer had concocted a story that had great possibilities for a strong external conflict and even stronger internal conflict. The heroine (let’s call her Melanie Donovan) is a newcomer to a large seaside town. On a night out, she meets one of the local Pharmacists (Brad Anderson) and is very attracted to the man. A romantic relationship commences and is well advanced when the heroine discovers he is the brother of the pilot who was flying a charter plane that crashed, killing the pilot, her brother and his wife.

This seems like a strong conflict. So how can it be strengthened to produce a more intense internal conflict for both protagonists?

Upping the ante in your External Conflict

I discussed with the writer her choice of occupation for the surviving brother, the main male protagonist in the story. What does Pharmacy have to do with a flying accident? By making the guy the owner of the local aviation company and flying school, there is more cause for External and Internal Conflict than if Brad is a Pharmacist. He was not directly responsible for the air crash, as bad weather and pilot error caused the crash. However, his occupation will always be a reminder of the tragedy.

Should Melanie back away from the chance to form a lasting relationship with the man she has fallen for, or should she terminate the romance?

Brad feels guilty enough about the air crash and is still mourning the loss of his brother Chris. Now he is aware that Melanie, the woman he wants a permanent and ongoing relationship with, is so directly related to the situation, he becomes unsure whether he can overcome the issues that threaten to destroy their chance for lasting happiness.

By changing one simple fact in the story, the occupation of the hero, both the external and internal conflicts are enhanced to a high degree.


All it takes to achieve this conflict enhancement is a deep analysis of the conflict you have initiated for your story. Is there another factor that could be introduced to up the ante? Does the external conflict in your story have the potential to heighten the internal conflict within your characters? If not, look for ways to introduce some type of dramatic undercurrent or past event that will be big enough affecth your entire story.


An excerpt from my book Fiction Writing Techniques – from the chapter “Conflict and Resolution”

© 2012 – Susan Jane

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Comments (5)

Well done and you clearly explained the external and internal conflicts. 

hi, okay thats nice article, votes

Well done! Such a helpful article.

Thanks for the recommendations and interest.

very helpful indeed, fb liked