Creating Conflict | StoryADay 2024 Day 9

Conflict is the beating heart of your story

Day 9 cover

The Prompt

The characters in your story today are stuck and need to work together to escape

Things To Consider

If character is the emotional heart of a story, conflict is the engine of the plot. Conflict doesn’t have to be something huge and traumatic.

It can be as simple as a disagreement about whether the coffee should be decaf or whether the person suggesting that is a monster caffeinated.

Every conflict is an opportunity to explore the motivation and values of your characters, and to point up the differences between them.

This is another great opportunity to take characters from another work-in-progress and dig deeper by putting them into a story.

One of the things that can easily get lost in a novel—especially after we fall in love with our characters—is conflict. We can spend so much time exploring their inner lives that we forget to torture them just a little bit.

Use today’s story to make life a little uncomfortable for your character. Sources of conflict to mine:

* Communication difficulties – misunderstandings, talking at cross purposes, someone not saying what they mean, linguistic difficulties…have you ever sat at dinner with your father and your brother and marveled at how they can argue over the minutiae of a how to talk about problem even though they agree on the bigger issue? (Asking for a friend…)

* Conflicting approaches to getting a task done – two characters may both want to escape the ravine they’ve fallen into, but one may want to follow the river until it reaches an outflow while the other wants to scale the cliff and get back on track as soon as possible.

Or, in a more mundane example: you take a wrong turn on the way to a party. You and your companion still both want to get to the party, but whereas your companion wants you to make a u-turn, you’re sure you can find an alternate route if you keep going forwards. Both of you are determined to do it your way. Why does it matter so much to each of you? What does it say about you as a character and about your relationship?

What else is feeding this conflict? What happens when you take that right turn down a quiet street, and how do each of you react to a, the events that greet you and b, the decision that led you there? Can you see how the story begins to emerge as you introduce conflict?)

* Conflicting wants/needs – perhaps one of your characters is less motivated to escape than the other. Why? Are they honest about it with the other character (or themselves) or not? * Lack of resources – conflict doesn’t always have to be interpersonal. It can be about a group of people in conflict with their environment. It’s easy to escape from a locked room if you have a key, harder if it’s barred from the outside.

Don’t forget, however, that it keeps things extra spicy if there is also interpersonal conflict, as stress levels rise.

Further Reading

A mundane situation 

Conflicting habits: 

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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32 thoughts on “Creating Conflict | StoryADay 2024 Day 9”

  1. Yesterday was weird for me. Lots of people coming and going from my house with minimal warning. That added a layer of challenge! I did manage to write my story, but I didn’t manage to get back here afterwards.

    I was thinking of sharing the story, but am wavering, so I’ll not for now. But it’s about a young ski instructor with a Challenging Student. I’m a ski instructor, and while the kid wasn’t based on a real person, all the things he did are things real students have done. We come in on the last week of a season-long relationship, so the instructor has this kid pretty well figured out. But when his parents INSIST he go on a difficult slope today and she can’t protest that he isn’t ready, merely that he doesn’t want to, things get a little nasty. As soon as they get to the top of the run, the kid melts down and doesn’t want to ski. And while the instructor would love to be like, “Fine. I’m paid by the hour. We’ll stay here until you get cold enough to change your mind,” there IS a time limit to how long they can just stand around, because if she doesn’t have him back at the school by the time the lesson is scheduled to end, she’s going to be in trouble.

    One of the fun things about writing it was that only one of the characters was free to act angry. The kid is yelling, but the instructor has to stay calm. She takes a lot of deep breaths and constantly reminds herself of things like her certainty the kid is only lashing out because he’d rather be mad than admit he’s scared, and you have to be compassionate with scared people because screaming at them not to be scared never helps.

    There was some amount of overplanning for the piece. I probably didn’t HAVE to spend over half an hour naming a dozen marked runs at this fictional ski area when I only mention two. But it is the same mountain my novels in this universe are set at, so at least some of the names are going to wind up getting mentioned somewhere. And I did keep myself from naming EVERY run. 🙂

  2. First time into the comments section.
    I didn’t read the prompt before writing, but saw “Conflict” in the email subject line, which was all it took. I’m trying to be more brazen in my writing, so conflict felt like a natural way to punch up the drama. What happened was STILL not as brazen as I want to be (used to be, sniff), but fun to write and well received by my writing group. They laughed in all the right places (and some surprising ones), and kept talking about the ideas (it’s speculative fiction) until I had to shut them down to get to the next meeting.
    I see that today’s subject is “Endings.” I have much to say about those, but I will hop over there to comment.
    Thanks Julie!

  3. I feel a little late to actually “connect” but have explored and appreciated your comments, fellow writers, and I checked out the links included. Very cool.

    The prompt took me in an unexpected direction. It sparked, flowed, and was fun to write. I’ve been writing at different times to try to find my sweet spot. I definitely think that past eleven pm I become the worst overthinking version of myself.

    Goodnight, all.


  4. I was all prepared to flagrantly disregard my own advice today, but I did end up writing a disagreement about escape plans, in the form of a dialogue in which only one character speaks a language readers can understand.
    It was fun.

  5. I enjoyed that this prompt sparked a lot of thought into the different types of conflict. I focused on character vs self and character vs character. A hunter comes across an abuse victim who is badly beaten and begging him to end her misery once and for all. He is sympathetic toward her and her current suffering but he cannot go against his morals. He continues to wrestle with the decision, wondering if he made the right one.

  6. First time I try this challenge .. for now I am getting a first idea, maybe, how characters evolve (I have some starter characters here and there at least) and brainstorming possible situations is helpful. I see the situations seem to start out close to me / then mundane and then I try to expand .. and be a little more ambitious on the scenarios (to see what happens..); feels like I have space here to be freer in my thinking. I’d say I have not managed a full plot on this one .. need to work on that a bit more during day or in the next prompt – I certainly started to flesh out the characters more with viewpoints / values / and other characteristics they could take.. super interesting to go through this process! Enjoy as well to hear the stories/themes here – all so different! (my plot ideas centered on 3 politicians trying to decide how to handle a new pandemic (a little in the future); and as I thought that was a bit challenging, a second option was about a family trying to decide where to go on holiday.. to work on). I don’t have full storylines yet – will try the framework (this happened and then etc.. ) to see what comes. Interested to have at least creative ideas first before being worried to write them..

  7. Another day down another story down. I wrote it while I was in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. My is about two characters stuck in an escape room. The male character thinks he knows best but keeps winding up deeper because he won’t listen to the female character. When he finally gives in she has them both out in the simple turn of a door knob.

    1. Hahaha! Excellent.

      And look at you, writing wherever you can. I think you have got the point of StoryADay beautifully!

  8. I just posted my conflict idea and was in a quandary because MC is a liar and that’s not a commendable quality. I’d forgotten that an unlikeable character can be made likeable so that’s what I’m going for. Richard Yates’ short stories are a good example of how that can be done so I’m thinking of how he does it. He makes you feel sorry for them.

    1. Oh, I’ll have to look him up (so many great writers, so little time!)

      But yes, rogues can be lovable, liars can be charming, cheats can be virtuosic…so many ways to make a character complex!

  9. My story involves a wife who’s crazy about her dog, and her husband who doesn’t even want a dog, especially not in the house. Scene: She says she thinks it needs to be in the house. They get into an argument in the kitchen with the dog there, where he takes it back outside where he thinks it should stay. During the argument she tells him she’s training the dog to be better, while in reality she’s paying for training which is going to make their financial situation more difficult. She doesn’t argue with him when he puts the dog out during this conversation, but decides she’ll just let the dog inside when he’s not home. She works from home and he sometimes travels, so that should work out, she thinks.
    This prompt really helped me see inside the wife in my story. I hadn’t even thought to show what the husband is thinking until writing this blurb to share here. And now I see that I can’t really have the wife be the main character since she’s awful, can I? More thinking to do. I’m going to try writing it in omniscient view like Walter said he wrote his. I’ve never been successful with omniscient view, but I’ll experiment.

  10. I felt sure I was going to funk this one, but I managed to write a passable draft about two boys, five and six, best buddies, scheming to get away from the dozing grandmother who was babysitting them. The most fun part was trying to make one, the older boy, more bold and ready to take risks, and the younger more timid and rules-following, using only dialogue. I used an omniscient narrator, but didn’t let the narrator poke into their little heads too much.

    I found this prompt particularly challenging and, for that reason, particularly valuable.

  11. Great prompt! Having just returned from a 28 day trip to the UK and Ireland with my significant other, I had lots of ideas for this one 🙂

    I’m really enjoying these prompts which are encouraging me to follow through on turning my long list of ideas into stories.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that.

      And you can’t possibly be implying you and your SO want to escape from each other after 28 blissful days together can you? (Hahahaha!)

    1. Teresa/Tessa, the nurse story is so relatable and the way you wrote it I could really feel the tension. I literally have an image of the nurse’s stare.

  12. Finished just a little before my hour limit again today. About 950 words. Not exactly stuck, but Rhys and Alfie are visiting the town where Rhys grew up, and Rhys refuses to stop and ask for directions because he knows the place he’s looking for has to be around there, the town couldn’t have changed that much, and Rhys runs into some ghosts from his past. This may have ended up being more about internal conflict than the conflict between Rhys and Alfie.

      1. He hasn’t been back to this town in probably 7-8 years, and it has actually changed more than he expected. But, being back there is definitely causing a lot of emotional upheaval for him. There was only one place in that town that had good memories, and it’s gone now.

      1. Well, at first he thought it was a literal ghost, but turns out it was the relative of someone he knew. But, most of the ghosts were figurative. I write about that kind a lot more than literal ones.

  13. The Cursed Woman:

    Gayatri, in spite of being a hard-working, peace-loving, god-fearing woman, had the misfortune or privilege of being considered an ill-fated woman.

    “Don’t take her to hospital, Binu.” Shubha said to his brother, pleadingly on that fatal Tuesday.

    “Why? Ma is sick and baudi is right in wanting to visit her.” Binu asked his elder brother, surprised.

    “Just like that.” Shubha replied. “Besides, you know what people are like. Should anything untoward happen today, God forbid, you can’t stop people from bad-mouthing her. Can you?” Shubha murmured. If he wanted to tell his younger brother anything more, he refrained himself from discussing the topic any further.

    It happened like that : Gayatri, Shubha’s wife had requested Binu, her brother-in-law, earlier in the morning to take her to Peerless Hospital in Kolkata to visit her ailing mother-in-law. Busy as she had been running the household chores in the absence of her in-law, she was the only one not to have gone out to meet her mother-in-law, long-hospitalised due to a severe bout of pneumonia.

    But the reason why Shubha had requested Binu not to take his wife to hospital became clear hours after their visit to the hospital…..

    On that glorious Tuesday afternoon, almost all the Sen household members were there to see Durga, Binu’s mother.
    The doctor had told Binu earlier in the day that Durga’s condition had improved miraculously to sift her to the General Ward from the ICU, where she had been kept on ventilation for the past twelve days.

    Once the news was passed through Binu, everyone in the Sen Family wanted to visit her.
    That’s when Gayatri had made the request to her brother-in-law to take her to the hospital.

    By the time they reached there and stepped into the General Ward, they were surprised to see almost all their kith and kin surrounding the bed on their left. Binu could also see his mother popped up on the bed, looking fatigued yet talking animatedly to one of her grandsons.

    He walked across to the other side of Bed No – 113 and squeezed his way in through the crowd of relatives.

    “Can you tell me my name, granna?” Someone asked Durga from the lap of his mother.

    “Look who’s come here, Ma,” his sister, Anwesa, told Durga, while she, in a sari loosely wrapped around her, slowly turned her head to find Binu there.

    She beamed as their eyes met. Binu gently stretched his hand out to touch his mother before asking:

    “And tell me who I am, Ma.”

    “You? Can you ever dare me to forget your identity?” Durga answered without naming him directly.

    The way she was greeting people, answering their questions and all, it was hard to believe that it was not so long ago that she was fighting a lost battle against Death!

    Amidst all the hummings and suppressed excitement, Durga next lowered her gaze towards the corner where Gayatri, a big smile hovering over her mouth, was standing expectantly.

    “How are you Ma?” She shot the question at her mother-in-law.

    Something strange happened the very next moment to Durga, who had barely managed to set her eyes on Gayatri by then. At first, her smile vanished into thin air. Next, her whole face got contorted, her eyes upturned as she started trembling like the Devil had possessed her. Then, her teeth were bared like Goddess Kali was out on a vengeance and the corners of her mouth started frothing!

    One of the nurses rushed in instantaneously. She hurriedly made her way through, took a look at Durga quaking on the bed like the recently slaughtered head of a lamb, and wasted no time in ringing the doctor, who, on his arrival asked everyone to make way as Durga was being lifted up from the bed and put back on a stretcher.

    “What’s wrong with Ma, Doctor?” Binu enquired helplessly running after the doctor.

    “I am not sure but I think she has had a convulsion.” The doctor responded. Then, before Binu could ask him any further questions, he blurted out on his own. “We are shifting her back to the ICU. Dr. Bose has already been informed. He is on his way.”

    The gist of the matter was that Durga, who had recovered from her prolonged illness that very day, transferred barely five hours back to the General Ward, had to be shifted back up to the ICU on the same Tuesday itself!

    A fighter to the core, Durga, having heroically fought her final battle tooth and nail for close to two weeks, finally succumbed to all powerful Death the next day.

    The sun, on the other side of the river, had long gone down in the horizon, leaving the sky crimson. Standing on the steps leading down to the Ganges, Binu, bare-chested and in a dhoti around her loins with water dripping from all over, looked back wishfully at the reflection of the crimson sky in the waters before throwing the earthen pot containing the ashes of his deceased mother into the holy river.

    A raven crowed from a tree nearby as someone was heard remarking from the top flight of steps further up:
    “I told you. That Gayatri is an evil woman. Didn’t Durga Aunty look all set on the road to recovery when Gayatri turned up? And no sooner had Aunty set her eyes on the cursed lady, you know what happened? Death seized her. She didn’t live to see another day……”

    Something brother Shubham had told him, came to Binu’s mind :
    “…Should anything untoward happen, God forbid, you can’t stop people from bad-mouthing her. Can you?”

    The end

    1. Rathin,
      Again very interesting, the cultural aspects/beliefs you’re reflecting the stories are interesting.

    2. Rathin,

      I’m going to second Andrew in saying that I’m enjoying the cultural aspects of your stories considerably. I really do need to read more Indian fiction.

      And on this story in particular… Poor Gayatri. With everyone talking about her like that, she has to have some serious issues from questioning if maybe they’re right. I feel for her.

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