If your manuscript has come back from your editor noting a lack of conflict, don’t despair. Adding conflict in retrospect is easier than you might think. If your editor has marked passages she believes would benefit from added conflict, you can tick off a third of the job already. The next steps are planning and writing the extra scenes.
A very easy way to insert conflict in a scene is to create a major change in the protagonist’s knowledge, expectations, perspective, relationships, etc. For example, the protagonist could expect one outcome but be forced to deal with another, or learn something that changes her perspective and sets her on a different path. Anything that makes a major, plot-related difference at the end of the scene compared to the beginning is a conflict within the scene itself.
This is also a good way to test your chapters and scenes: if nothing changes plot-wise within a chapter, it is incomplete.
The protagonist’s thoughts, hopes, and anxieties offer a rich layer of inner conflict, often under-utilised.
Is your hero’s goal something he wants at all costs? Or something he’s going for against his better judgement, or because he has no choice? Does he have to make ethical decisions or confront his fears in order to reach his goal?
Get your reader invested in opposing outcomes to use her/his own conflicting feelings to increase emotional involvement in your story.
Two likeable characters with the same goal, or opposing goals can also increase the conflict stakes as the reader wonders who will win, and what will happen to the character who doesn’t.
Conflict in a story improves reader engagement, so it’s worth the extra planning and writing to improve the impact of your story.
Elle Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She writes fiction as Elle Carter Neal. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.