Conflict – the Key Ingredient of a Plot

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The key to a plot is conflict – there has to be some problem that your main character has to deal with. Look back over the qualities and traits of your main character and look for problems that can fit into his particular personality and qualities.

For instance, imagine that your main character loves his family and his main ambition in life is to be a good parent. On the other hand, your main character’s family and friends put tremendous pressure on him (social, financial, etc.) to have a successful career. Here is an opportunity for a plot.

Maybe your main character is offered a job promotion which will win the respect of his family and friends, but will greatly limit the amount of time and interaction that he can spend with his kids. The story would deal with whether or not he takes the job, the consequences of that choice and how he deals with them.

Alternatively, perhaps he is about to leave his successful job with its prospects for future promotions and status to be a teacher in his kids school – a job which provides him more time with his kids, but which creates tension with his family and friends. Here the story would focus on how your main character deals with his decision and whether or not he is able to maintain it.

Three Aspects of a Story

Keith talks about three aspects of a story – Dilemma, Confrontation, and Resolution. The dilemma is the problem that your main character faces – the issues and/or concerns that he or she will have to deal with in the story.

The first part, then, of the plot is revealing this dilemma. Of course, the dilemma does not need to be totally revealed all at once, but some aspect of it must be set out towards the beginning of your tale. Eventually your story will need to transition into the confrontation or conflict which arises from the dilemma. And finally, you need to resolve that conflict.

Remember to work your characters personalities and qualities into the three aspects of this story. An interesting dilemma and engaging confrontation are not nearly as interesting as the peculiar ways in which human beings deal with their trials and tribulations. Also, work at least as hard on the resolution of your story as you do on the dilemma and confrontation. All too often an author dreams up a truly engaging dilemma and confrontation, but falls short on the resolution. Don’t just have the man in the white hat come in and save the day, be creative and imaginative.