Every writer wants to hook the reader and earn five star reviews for their hard work. Not all books get such glowing reviews, though, even if the author worked hard and created a vivid world. What went wrong? All too often, the story was too easy. The characters didn’t have to struggle, and readers were bored. Remember, all drama stems from conflict, and if your book is light on conflict and heavy on hair and makeup descriptions, your readers will be bored.
Drama Comes from Conflict
If you find yourself writing a story where only a small handful of bad or uncomfortable things happen, then you need to rethink your strategy. Readers engage with characters who elicit an emotional response, and readers get those emotions through drama. There’s still plenty of room for good things, for funny moments and cliché kisses in the rain, but your readers want to see your characters struggle. This could be anything from self image problems to the dark lord trying to end the world. It may be a mix of things. Just remember that conflict provides the meat of your narrative. It drives change.
Think of Scenes and Chapters as Mini Novels
Everyone knows the general shape and pacing of a novel. There’s an introduction, rising action, a climax, and brief de-escalation. The majority of your story sits in the rising action category. It can be difficult to secure your readers’ attention during this long, uphill march, which is why it’s so important to incorporate lots of smaller problems throughout your story. Try to think of each chapter as its own miniature story. It needs rising action and a climax of its own. This may be a small kind of drama that foreshadows growing issues, like an argument, an insult, or a failure. Your options are as plenty as your fictional world is wide.
Avoid Ex Machina Conflicts
Creative twists always make for a good read, but make sure to avoid ex machina on two different fronts. Let your conflict make sense. First, you need to ground it in your characters and their needs or goals. Conflict should arise naturally. If you try to create awkward little battles where none would naturally exist, try again. It’s better to change something about the environment to motivate a natural clash of interests. Do you have two characters? Make only one bed available and see what happens. The other side of this is, of course, to let your characters work through these conflicts. As amazing as Tolkien’s work is, it will forever be the brunt of all eagle jokes. When in doubt, leave it to your characters.
Your Characters Need to Suffer
No one wants to see their babies in pain. It’s natural human instinct to avoid conflict, and forcing yourself to endure hardships alongside your characters feels counterintuitive. It’s vital for good writing, though. People didn’t read Jurassic Park because they wanted to sit alongside happy tourists looking at dinosaurs through bars. Wuthering Heights didn’t become a classic because love is sweet, kind, and easy, even if the people involved are not. Be brave. Put your characters through trauma. Your readers will thank you.
Conflict isn’t easy, but that’s its nature. It’s the most powerful connection you’ll have with any reader. Have faith in your characters, and make their lives a little harder. Your readers will love it.