Why Conflict Between Characters Is an Essential Part of Storytelling

So… there was this one time, when I was playing Dungeons & Dragons, and I killed this monster that loot-dropped a basket.

“The basket contains infinite food,” the DM told me.

“I use it to destroy the global economy,” I replied.

The DM immediately clarified that the basket only provided enough food for one person, for one day. After I started trying to use the food supply as weapons, he told me that the only food in the basket was muffins, which I thought was a little unfair.

But I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to take magical objects to their logical extreme—and part of the fun of writing NEXT BOOK has been creating a character who shares that perspective.

This character is unlike me in a number of ways; she’s a cynic, for starters. She does not approach the possibilities of other worlds with anything like joy and wonder; she understands that once the general population gets wind of a portal to a magical kingdom, for example, it’ll just lead to more wars and resource battles.

There is another character, of course, who provides the opposite perspective. Who believes that a doorway to a new world could lead to something wonderful, instead of something terrible.

Then I introduced a planned obstacle—like, one that had been in the plot from the very beginning—and had these two characters react to it in the exact same way.

Because that’s the only way people could react to this particular plot development, right? No option for optimism here, not as we head into the third act!

And then my draft died.

I’d open it up, write a couple hundred words, erase them, rewrite them, and then close the laptop and tell myself I’d try again tomorrow.

Then I had a shower thought.

What if I had my positive thinker continue to think positively, even in this particular situation? What if this character saw the problem as an opportunity for growth and connection, rather than the destructive force my more cynical protagonist (and myself, as the author) initially assumed it was?

This not only made my narrative immediately more interesting, it also brought conflict back into the story. I mean, obviously the main conflict is characters vs. obstacle, but you know that these characters are going to overcome the obstacle eventually because that’s how stories work.

Which means the conflict that really matters is the conflict between the characters. That’s the part of the story that helps us understand how to be human, after all.

It was a good lesson to learn, even if it took me nearly a week of junky writing to figure it out. ❤️

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