|Photo by Brady Tulk, Indy Trendy Skits, Flickr|
Now change one element: Both men are perfect for her but in completely different ways; both men are good, both men have their flaws, both men love her deeply. Now you’ve created reader conflict – whom should she choose? Whom would the reader choose? In one scene, one of the men reveals something that could hurt the protagonist, and the reader makes a choice: choose the other guy. But then the other love interest makes a mistake, and the heroine (and, along with her, the reader) is back to square one.
Perhaps the protagonist wants the same goal as another character, or reaching the goal will cause harm to that character. Again, if the other character is the villain, the reader’s alliance is simple to form. But, if the reader has almost equal sympathy for the other character in conflict with the protagonist, the pages almost turn themselves. How can they both win? What will the protagonist choose to do? Who will win, and what will happen to the character who doesn’t?
This is not to say you shouldn't write clear-cut plots with a sympathetic protagonist versus a nasty antagonist, but, rather, that adding an element of conflict on either side of the equation might be the missing piece that injects life into your story and gets your reader emotionally invested in your book.
If something seems to be missing from your story, or it seems somehow lifeless, check that you're causing your reader conflict.
Elle Neal is currently on maternity leave, but is volunteering behind the scenes at Blood-Red Pencil, while keeping an ear out for blood-curdling screams from the other side of the house. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.