How to Devise a Story That Readers Wont Want to Put Down

To create a story, pick up your protagonist by the scruff of the neck and drop her headlong into a conflict.

Most of us try to avoid conflict in our lives, or so we contend. Yet without conflict we would have no challenges to meet, no obstacles to overcome, no victories to declare. Life would be easy, with happy outcomes assured. But it would also be flat, dull, and boring.

So it is with a story. Without conflict a story has no fuel, nothing to propel it forward, and no reason for readers to keep turning the pages. Throw in a bit of a struggle, and your narrative gains purpose and direction. You set up questions and issues that must be resolved. Now you have the energy, tension, and suspense to catch and keep our interest.

Conflict involves any two forces that are working in opposition. You're not required to fill your story with bloody battlefields or screaming matches or duels to the death. When the playground clique shuts a child out of a game, or two office-mates are contending for promotion to the same higher position, conflict is brewing.

You don't even need to treat the conflict seriously. Look at P.G. Wodehouse's very funny tales, wherein the hapless English aristocrat Bernie Wooster constantly gets into scrapes, obliging his sensible valet Jeeves to bail him out. Remember, though, that in comedy it's the author and the readers who find the situation humorous. For the characters, there are critical issues at stake.

One way to test the viability of a story idea is to examine it for its potential for conflict. As you play the "what if..." game, look for three ways the situation could create a problem for a character or lead to a contest, a quarrel, or a misunderstanding. Identifying one possible conflict is sufficient, of course, but striving for three stretches your imagination farther. Often your second or third idea turns out to be the one that ignites your passion for the story.

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