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Conflict is one of the most essential ingredients of fiction.

When a character
with a goal meets an obstacle to that goal, conflict ensues. Story ensues. But
one-dimensional conflict isnt enough to plumb the depths of a storys potential.
So just what is one-dimensional conflict?
When conflict is coming at the protagonist from just one direction, the story
runs a very real risk of becoming flat. Everything in the story will be focused on
this one goal/obstacle. While that may be fine in a short story, its going to
create a couple nasty little problems in longer works.
The Three Problems With One-Dimensional Conflict
When all your storys conflict is arising from just one source (e.g., Zacks teacher
has it out for him and keeps giving him unfair grades), then your story becomes
tremendously limited. Here are just three possible pitfalls that may result:
1. Repetition
When youve only got one horse to beat, you can bet hes going to end up dead
pretty fast. Theres only so much we can say about any given story scenario.
There are only so many ways poor Zack can try to figure out why his teacher
hates him and how he can overcome that. Once weve covered those options,
either our story endsor we start repeating ourselves.
2. Lack of Thematic Depth
Subplots require their own offshoots of conflict. Whether these subplots feature
the trials and tragedies of minor characters (Zacks best friends trouble with his
parents because he couldnt care less about his own legitimate bad grades) or
another aspect of the protagonists own struggle (Zacks determination to fill the
shoes of his dead valedictorian sister), they offer the opportunity to riff on the
main theme and explore different aspects of the same subject. Without subplot
conflict, youll never be able to find thematic depth.
3. Flat Filler Scenes
If only one main conflict drives your story, youll almost inevitably end up with
important linking scenes that dont feature that particular conflict: Zack saying
Most Common Writing Mistakes: One-Dimensional Conflict
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goodbye to his parents before school, Zack hanging with his friends after school.
And because thats your only conflict, these scenes, in fact, feature no conflict.
How to Add More Dimensions to Your Storys Conflict
This ones easy-peasy, right? Just add more conflict. Start by asking yourself the
following questions:
1. How can you create varying levels of conflict between your protagonist
and every other character in the story?
Note, of course, the key phrase varying levels. You dont want all your
characters out for blood. But Zack could be getting a lot of flack from his parents
over his bad grades. Or his buddy could be pressuring him to help him cheat on
his own tests.
2. What are the other characters goals and how do they interfere with the
protagonists goal and each others goals?
To be dimensional, conflict must be layered. Zack isnt the only person with a
goal, which mean he isnt the only person meeting with obstacles and conflict.
Maybe Zacks dad wants him to get an after-school job, which will interfere with
his studying. Maybe theres a cute girl hes crushing on who wants him to take
her to the movies instead of working his job. The possibilities are endless.
3. How can all the layers of conflict drive the main plot and be thematically
Its not enough to simply pile on the discord. Characters cant just be getting in
each others way for any old reason. To create a coherent story, every layer of
conflict must ultimately influence the plot and resonate within the overall
theme. All of the potential conflicts I mentioned above for Zacks story impact
his main goal of getting good grades. But we could also deepen the thematic
resonance by creating conflicts that explore why good grades are important (as
an accomplishment in themselves? as an investment in the future? as a way to
make it up to his parents that his sister died instead of him?), why authority
figures sometimes let us down or dont let us down (the teacher, Zacks parents,
Zacks buddys parents), or even why priorities are important (Zacks grades vs.
the after-school job vs. the new girlfriend).
Is there such a thing as too much conflict in a story? Not really. Ive seen very
few, if any, stories that come even close to pushing that envelope. Most stories
would benefit from more conflictas long as it drives the plot and powers the
About the Author: K.M. Weiland is
the internationally published author of
the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your
Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as
well as the western A Man Called
Outlaw, the medieval epic Behold the
Dawn, and the epic fantasy
Dreamlander. When shes not making
things up, shes busy mentoring other
authors. She makes her home in
western Nebraska.

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