By Joe Moore
In a recent writer’s forum, the question was asked: What is the most important element in a story? Plot, character development, pacing, voice, etc. Of course, they’re all important. But in my opinion, there’s one element that will always get an agent or editor’s attention in a query letter. It’s the one thing that that must be in your book to make the story work? I think it’s the secret to writing a page-turning thriller.
Conflict deals with how your characters must act and react to reach their goals.
It’s the key ingredient that turns a stranger into a fan or causes an agent to request your full manuscript or an editor to drop everything and read your submission: a clear understanding and statement of conflict.
Is your hero in a race against the clock to solve the puzzle and find the treasure before all hell breaks loose? Is your heroine on the run to prove her innocence before the police track her down? That’s the plot. But what makes it interesting and compelling is what stands in their way. What’s tripping them up, causing them to falter or doubt or take a detour?
Conflict makes a thriller more thrilling. It’s the single element that keeps readers up at night. It forces the reader to continue to ask, “How is he going to get out of this one?”
There are two kinds of conflict—external and internal.
External Conflict is the struggle between a character and an outside force. The external conflict can be from another character or even a force of nature such as battling the elements—a hurricane or the extreme cold of the Arctic. External conflict usually takes place between the hero and another person or nature, or both.
Internal conflict is a struggle taking place in the hero’s mind. Mental conflict can be much more devastating that external because your character usually has to decide between right and wrong or between life and death. Internal conflict is the hero battling against himself.
Conflict causes the excitement to build to a climax, and the climax is the turning point of the story leading to a resolution. Without conflict, a story lacks life, energy and drive.
How do you approach conflict? Do you insert it into each scene? Do you use internal or external, or a combination of both? Have you ever read a story that didn’t have conflict? Was it worth reading?