Saturday, May 21, 2016

Conflict in Stories

Writing conflict is hard for me, even reading it is sometimes hard. If involved in a novel where I know the characters, it upsets me as if I were in the room where the conflict was taking place between friends: uncomfortable, worried. Since all stories involve conflict of some sort, I guess that is the reaction writers want.

Fiction characters have motives for what they do, and conflict brings out their purposes, which can range from outright hatred to cross-purposes where one character has a convoluted sense of love where he or she believes his or her actions protect the one they love. Many other situations also lead to conflict between characters providing the drama readers want. Sometimes the reader knows ahead of time what causes the conflict, sometimes they find out later when the problem is solved. These are the type of excerpts that I believe get readers entangled in a storyline.

This is an excerpt from a contemporary romance that is no longer published but I may self-publish it. It starts out the story, so in this case, readers do not yet know the characters. I hope the situation is clear in the reading.
Amanda pushed through the glass front door expecting to have to plow past secretaries and assorted office henchmen, but as luck would have it, Wade Preston stood in the reception area talking with his partner, Edward Van Haitsma. Wade’s height and dark hair made a strong contrast to his partner’s shorter frame and fair hair. Both were good looking by anyone’s standard. Wade held a stack of papers. The two men looked as if they had just finished a heated discussion.

“Whatever you want!” Van Haitsma said as he turned and walked away, his shoes pounding an upset rhythm on the refinished, highly polished oak flooring.

Preston’s fiancée, Melisa Rillema, stood nearby with her arms crossed. A pout marred the perfection of her face. Since only the woman’s mouth moved, without a hint of frown lines, Amanda snorted, suspecting cosmetic injections. Melisa would make a perfect wife for Wade. Two beautiful, congenial rich rats running in a social superiority maze. Melisa’s long blonde hair rippled about her shoulders as she turned her head to glance at Amanda, then back to Wade who had walked over to her.

As she strode forward to interrupt the couple’s private interlude, Wade looked over at her, anger etching his face. She checked her step, then charged ahead. Hell, he had to expect a storm from the letter he sent her. As Wade watched her approach, his face firmed into what Amanda privately called the bulldog behind the businessman’s mask. It infuriated her to have to spend her precious lunchtime taking care of this matter. This time, she would talk to Wade Preston face-to-face and make her position clear.

“Mrs. Carter, how can I help you?”

He recognized her? His voice and demeanor were politely bland, but remnants of anger lingered in lines around his handsome features. He called her by her married name, something she’d thrown away after her divorce. She held Preston’s gaze with determination. As a freshman teenager in high school with hormones and the idealism of innocence, Amanda’s dreamworld starred the senior quarterback, Wade Preston. Back then he had been oblivious of her.

“It’s Ms. Blanchard, now. You can help me, Mr. Preston, by accepting the fact that I do not want to sell my property. Not now, and not in the future. Furthermore, I will not let you steal it from me.” Heads turned toward the sound of her angry tones. Most looked like employees and quickly looked away when Amanda stared back at them. Wade’s face deepened in color, his mouth and jaw set, his eyes darkening.

She waved the envelope under his nose. He took it, looked at the address and pulled the sheets from inside. His brows scrunched lower as he read.

“You’ve received an offer at a fair-market price,” Wade said, his voice firm, low and controlled. Her temper eased slightly seeing the wrinkle between his brows as he looked at her letter.

Melisa smiled pityingly at Amanda. “I would think in your dire circumstances, Wade’s offer was manna from Heaven.” Her tone pure condescension.

“Stay out of this,” Wade said with a fierce gaze at his fiancée. Amanda thought Melisa’s smile more smirk than compliant and doubted the woman even heard Wade’s words.

“What could you possibly know about my situation?” Amanda said. “And how does any of this involve you?”

The smile never faltered. “I understand it is a very generous offer.”

Amanda’s rage fired anew. Melisa had no part in this, and her opinion was not only unneeded but also unwanted. “Generous if I were willing to sell out what my family has worked generations to build. I’m not.” Amanda turned back to Wade Preston, grabbed the letter from his hand and clutched it in her fist.

His frowning gaze turned to Amanda, his brows lowering until they nearly touched. “I don’t know what you are alleging. As I said, this is an offer at a fair market price for your property.”

“You missed the threat of an eminent domain seizure. I don’t care what dirty tricks you try with the bank, or the county Planning Department, or the Commissioners, or the township board. I will fight you every step of the way.”

“Then you better hire a lawyer,” Melisa cut in with a practiced tinkling sound that substituted for a laugh.

“Melisa…” Wade’s tone held a warning and his scowl deepened.
I have blogged on conflict scenes before in an excerpt from  'Loser's Game' and in this example from 'Acceptance.'

Check out how the author's listed handle conflict in scenes from their stories.

Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich 
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax 
Fiona McGier
Rachael Kosinski
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
Judith Copek


  1. Very good reality building, Rhobin. You have sketched in a situation, and created personality, in very few words, specifically thanks to the conflict. Also, any reader would have to ask questions like What's the fiance's role in all this? Why does the guy want to grab her property? What is more important to Amanda than a fair market price?
    Well done.

  2. I like the way you reveal the conflict a bit at a time. Also like the supercilious fiancee who just has to stick her oar in. Great conflict.

  3. Great conflict and among multiple characters - business partners, Wade and fiancée, Amanda and fiancée and Wade and Amanda. And great set up for the story - a good hook and just enough info to make you want to read more.

  4. I liked the way you played your characters off against each other, not always easy to do when you have more than two in a scene.

  5. Interesting set-up, hinting that Wade is unhappy with his fiancee, but beginning to realize that another woman has appeared in his life, who might be a better choice. Strong men don't like sycophants--they prefer equally strong women. Or at least that's what I firmly believe!