How To Give Your Characters Conflict

When it comes to penning a story, there are a few essential ingredients to add to the mix, and one of them is conflict.

Why? Because humans love drama. That’s the reason reality TV shows are still around and why readers enjoy stories that use conflict to hold their interest.

Does that mean your book needs to be filled with back-stabbing scenarios and crazy plot twists? No (although if that’s the book you want to write, go for it!). Conflict does not have to be over-the-top or even in the reader’s face. Quiet conflict, the kind a character internally wrestles with, can be just as entertaining and thought-provoking when done right, so try sprinkling it and other types of conflict in with these tips.

How To Give Your Characters Conflict

Take Away What Your Character Wants/Needs

A classic case of conflict is taking something important from your character.

If they need a certain grade to get into school, have them fail. If they live for their child, what would happen if they were separated?

Think about how you would feel if something essential for your life was ripped away and channel it into your words. When your MC has to fight for what they want/need, the conflict is guaranteed, so do as much taking as you can.

Pile On The Consequences

A character who wins all the time gets stale quickly, but a character who has consequences for their wins is one that maintains interest.

If you want that kind of factor in your story, take a look at the events and make sure you’ve included consequences—good and bad—for your characters and their actions.

The more consequences you have, the more it could lead to other issues, which will only compound that conflict, automatically upping the interest.

Create Flawed Characters

A well-rounded character is a flawed character and you can use those flaws to inject conflict into your story.

To try this, give your character something to achieve, and then throw everything at them to mess it up. A huge promotion after a year of hard work could see your MC realize they aren’t cut out for their new role. Whether they sink with their shortcomings or rise above them and become better is a story readers love to follow—all thanks to conflict.

Make Things Personal

How many books have you read and movies have you seen that really kicked off once something personal happened to the MC? I’m going to say a fair few because that’s good storytelling.

When something is personal for a character, they will go to the ends of the earth, betray their nearest and dearest, rob a bank, and/or sacrifice themselves. After all, John Wick didn’t massacre his way through 3 movies for no reason. They killed his dog.

Give your MC something personal to win or lose and it forces them to act or do something, usually outlandish, leaving the conflict to create itself.

Cram Them Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Conflict works because it’s usually nothing good. If you want to amp that up, put your character between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Give them lose-lose situations, such as deciding if their spouse dies at the cost of their child.

Yes, it’s cruel and a grim decision, but it’s also conflict gold. Readers will be on the edge wondering how things will pan out, and if they’d do the same in a similar situation. They’ll also keep reading to find out.

Disrupt The Status Quo

Is your character living their best life? Are they happy in their dream job, or in their relationship? Did they just get the house they wanted, or marry their first love? If so, change it!

Add conflict by disrupting every normal thing in their life and upending the status quo.

Family secrets, deception, underhanded work by a colleague—almost anything can be changed from the usual to something left of field, fueling everything that happens to your character with, you guessed it, conflict.

Isolate The Main Character

While we could all do with a little me-time now and then, isolation that is extreme and ongoing isn’t ideal.

Nobody does well in such situations, and neither would your MC. Try taking away their support system, either via circumstance, the actions of an antagonist, or from the character’s own choices, and not only will you create conflict, but it could be what turns your book into a must-read.

That’s the power of compelling conflict and why making it an essential part of your story will benefit your book.

— K.M. Allan

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25 thoughts on “How To Give Your Characters Conflict

  1. Ach, you are completely right, and I agree. But I have just one author who refutes everything you say (though I agree with you, not him) Marcel Proust.
    Wonderfully successful, writes beautifully with nothing at all to say. Conflict? who needs it says Marcel, sipping a cup of tea.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. He wakes up and drinks tea then spends the rest of the day wondering why he did not do more. Then laments the fact he did nothing. He occasionally talks of the others who he meets, who (I am told, explain the nature of France at the time) do little other than decry the zeitgeist. Then They drink tea.
        Nothing happens really (in my opinion). On the positive side, the books are wondrously descriptive, and the sentence structure is wonderful. Lol- no bullet points for Proust.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. How did you know I needed this post? I’m working on a pair of characters that need a little something more, and this list will help me find the right approach. I LOVE the way you put the cookies on a low shelf, making the information easy to read, understand and apply. Truly a gift Kate. BTW, I shared your books with a co-worker today who loves YA and magic. She promised to check them out!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Alexander! Loving the new profile pic. I’m so happy to hear this post will help you, it’s certainly given me some things to think about as I work on my WIP. Thank you for passing around the word about my books. I really appreciate it.


  3. petespringerauthor

    I love books with internal conflict involving characters trying to overcome their demons and flaws. It is one of the best ways to understand, empathize with, or even loathe a character, depending on the choices they make.

    Liked by 2 people

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