NaNo Prep: Creating Conflict for Your Characters

Welcome to the next installment of NaNoWriMo prep. Last week you spent some time creating your protagonist, figuring out who they are, where they came from, and a bit about what makes them tick. So now it’s time to move on to the next phase: creating conflict.

Conflict drives a story, pushes your character forward, leads to action. But dreaming up a conflict can be a complicated process. If you tend to be a more plot-driven writer instead of a character-driven one, you may already have an idea brewing, but more likely you have just a sense of what sort of book you want to write more than an actual conflict developed. So where do you start?

Begin with the character you’ve just developed. You have a fairly good mental image of your protagonist at this point, so try delving a little deeper. What do they want? What motivates them? Do they have a secret wish? Something they dream about? Or are they very upfront about their goals in life? What are their ambitions?

Now, a dream by itself doesn’t create much of a conflict. That’s up to you. Once you know what your character wants, you need to find something or someone to stand in their way. Throw up a major obstacle for them, an antagonist whose desires are in opposition or a situation that throws their dream into jeopardy. There can be many smaller obstacles, as well — in fact, you should strive to create as many as possible while still maintaining a degree of believability — but for now focus on the primary roadblock. Whatever goal your protagonist hopes to achieve, your job is to make it a seemingly impossible challenge.

Something to keep in mind: your character’s deepest desire may not be the thing that sends them off on an adventure. They don’t necessarily need a goal that involves a quest, like rescuing the princess who has captured their heart or searching for buried ¬†treasure. Some characters want a happy, peaceful life. They’d prefer to be left alone. In this case, the adventure and whatever catalyst pushes out the door is actually the conflict; something forcing your character to take action against their very nature so that eventually they will be free to return to their cozy home.

Once you’ve determined your character’s ultimate goal and the primary obstacle standing in their way, you’ll have the initial building blocks for your NaNo novel.