In Parts 1 and 2, I explained how important goals, motivation and conflict are to your story. You need to be clear about what your characters want, why they want it and the obstacles they will face to prevent them from getting it, so that you can define them for the reader. I also gave you a few tips about setting goals to drive your story.
Conflict is a struggle against someone/something, in which the outcome is in doubt. For example, two dogs and one bone. It is the obstacle your hero must face in order to reach his goal. Learn to love conflict, because both readers and editors love it! It’s your job as an author to be mean to your characters and to create plenty of difficulties to hinder them. Conflict creates worry/doubt in the reader's mind, helps them to sympathise with a character and care about how the problem will be resolved.
What is conflict?
Remember that arguing is not conflict and doesn’t drive the story. It’s the thing that is stopping your character from achieving his goal. You need to know what the obstacles are and why they are relevant to your characters, so you can define them clearly for the reader.
It’s not enough for a John and Jane to bicker about money. That will soon bore the reader. But what if Jane desperately needed the money, because her twin sister needed a life-saving operation? Even worse, what if Jane is wracked with guilty, because she didn’t offer her sister one of her own kidneys two years ago and now her pregnancy is preventing her from making the sacrifice. She has to get the money, or sacrifice her unborn child to save her sister. Now the reader is on the edge of her seat and feels for Jane, because she has an impossible decision to make and a husband that is preventing her from gathering enough money together.
How do you use conflict?
External conflict is what physically challenges your characters and usually throws them together, like putting a coward in a hero's role, or a loner having to nurture many. Internal conflict are the core emotional beliefs that keep your characters apart. These beliefs are deeply in grained and affect
their relationships. Use them to force your hero do things outside his comfort zone.
With a combination of external and internal conflicts, you can make your hero’s life a living hell. (Goodie!) You need to lay strong foundations for the main conflict(s) in your plot early on, so the reader will understand why the hero behaves the way he does. Conflict should be used to test your character so he grows as a person by the end of the story.