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Adding Conflict to Your Story

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.

Change Something

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.

Inner Conflict

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?

Reader Conflict

Get your reader invested in opposing outcomes to use her/his own conflicting feelings to increase emotional involvement in your story.

Character Conflict

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.

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  1. Here's conflict for you ... should I work on my next book are spend the rest of the day marketing the other ones so I can eat?

  2. LOL, Christopher. I have the same conflict going.

    Elsa, thanks for the great tips and I love the examples. I am going to send a link to the author I am currently working with on a rewrite of her first book. She is so open to learning the craft and this will help.

  3. How clear and simple it all sounds Elsa? Why does it always become a tangled mess upon implementation? You put it so well I'm going to print this out.

  4. How many of you draw from real-life personal conflicts when writing conflict into a story?

  5. Great examples, Elsa! Thanks. In fiction, unlike in life, more conflict is a good thing.

  6. Conflict within a story, both internal and external, will keep the reader turning pages. Good advice Elsa.

  7. Dani, I think most writers do draw from personal conflict to understand and convey the emotions. The specific conflict may not be from my own life, but how I felt about something could be.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I didn't preview my last comment first, so of course I screwed it up and had to delete it.
    Anyway, I was going to say that those were excellent suggestions, Elsa. I'll have to remember a few when I get stuck.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. Conflict is the foundation of good fiction. The kind of conflict varies from scene to scene and story to story, but the presence of conflict is a must if the reader is going to be engaged from beginning to end. Great post, Elsa!

  11. This is such a great post. Your suggestions are wonderful. I'm printing this up to reference as I work on rewrites..and conflict is my big issue.

  12. Thanks for your comments everyone. I had no Internet access this weekend so have been unable to read and respond until today.


    How about writing in the mornings and spending the afternoons marketing? That would be my choice.

    HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil


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