There’s Power in Conflict

I volunteer with an organization called Step It Up, which connects high school students with experts in their chosen careers, and offers advice and support around jobs.  Over the last couple of months, I've done a couple of writing workshops for them, with a co-leader who is a teacher.

The last two days we've been working with the kids on writing cover letters and thank yous.  Specifically, my task was to help them find ways to get stories into their cover letters (and job interviews) to make them come alive.

As my co-leader Christine and I planned how we would do this last week, I told her it was very simple.  That there was one thing that every single story from the beginning of time had in common.

"What is that?" she asked.

I'm sure all of you reading know the answer, so say it with me:


The bedrock, bottom-line, starting point of all story.  Conflict.  Stories don't exist without it.

And yet, my co-leader, an educated woman with a master's degree who had taken tons of English classes and participated on the debate team, had never heard this simple fact.  Which doesn't actually surprise me because I've run into plenty of grown-ups who haven't either.

The cool thing is that Christine went off and put her new knowledge into place.  Yesterday she stopped me after the workshop and said, "Thank you.  This whole story thing has totally blown my mind and changed the way I look at everything."

Turns out she had spent the weekend with a group of girlfriends, and every time it was her turn to talk or tell a story, she found herself rearranging it a bit mentally so that she started with a bit of conflict.  And now she's thinking about how she can put conflict into her cover letter stories and jazz them up.

Its the power of conflict, baby.  Use it whenever you can, in the stories you tell, the letters you write, the books you are committing to paper.   Your writing and your story telling will be richer and more compelling for it.  Put the conflict on the page and keep it out of your life, is my motto.

For the record, when I asked the teenagers in the workshops what the basic element of story was, most of them answered, "conflict."  So there's hope for future writers.

How do you develop conflict in your writing?

**If you want to know how to develop conflict in your book proposal, consider taking my book proposal teleclass.  It begins June 7th, and the early-bird pricing is still on.  Check it out here.

0 thoughts on “There’s Power in Conflict”

  1. Of course a lack of money, a snow storm, and just plain bad luck get in the way, but like Jarvis, I hope to develop conflict with what the characters want. For instance, Jake, my main character, wants to keep his job as a detective—it’s his last chance—but the investigation isn’t going well and the captain has to throw someone under the bus. Jake’s girlfriend, who has a bright future in the department, doesn’t want to torpedo her career by hooking up with a loser. Even so, she wants to sleep with him just once before he goes, but he is not interested in sex just for sex (a weird guy). Her mother, his ex, and the mayor want something entirely different. Conflict is when one person wants one thing and someone else wants a different thing but they are thrown together because they live in the same building, they work together, they are in the elevator together, they are in love. It happens, even in the real world, and when it does life suck for someone 😉

  2. Jarvis and J.D., Agreed. Totally. I told the kids yesterday to think of someone wanting something and then not being able to get it. They understood that very well!

    And, sometimes you might have a situation in a non-fiction piece where developing conflict in character might not work. Although I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, because I always personalize non-fiction too.

    Thanks for weighing in, guys.

  3. I *love* conflict! It’s what makes me want to read and fuels my writing. The conflict within a character is the most compelling for me. To hone my craft so that my readers can feel that conflict is my number one writing goal.

  4. Zan Marie is right. Get the reader to relate to an inner conflict a character has and they won’t put your book down. Should he do the right thing? And how right is the right thing? Charlotte, we try to avoid conflict in life, but sometimes it hunts down like an eagle falling from the sky. Woe to us rabbits trying to escape its clutches.

  5. J.D., I bestow upon you the prize for best use of metaphors in comments this week. You’ve had some good ones! I think the inner conflicts are the hardest to develop realistically–and thus the most effective.

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