Monday, March 22, 2021

4 Tips To Add Conflict to Your Story

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

When I first tried my hand at writing a novel, I wrote a happy story where everyone was nice. There wasn't any conflict and very little tension. I had a lot to learn. I read articles and blog posts by seasoned authors, who said every story needs conflict.

But what do you do if you don't write romance or suspense? How do you add conflict in historical or women's fiction? At least in historical, you have events that will add conflict for your characters. The lack of modern conveniences adds tension and conflict.

But let's say you're writing women's or general fiction. How do you add that conflict? I'm glad you ask, little scribe. 

Tips to Add Conflict to Your Story
1. Know your character. It took time for me to develop my character interview. At first it was very superficial. Finally, I read an article that said, "Don a journalist's hat and interview your character." Lightbulb moment! I now pass that to you. Don't stop at a surface interview; poke and prod the character until they give up their secrets. Keep asking, "Why?" until you discover the reason they act or react the way they do. 

That's what makes them the way they are. Look for the lie they believe. Write a stream-of-consciousness back story for your character. Go as far back as you must to discover the answers to these questions: 
  • What do they want? This is the story goal for the character.
  • What do they fear? What things, events, or people do they fear? Make sure you add those to the story. 
  • What secret are they hiding? Every POV character needs a secret they hide from everyone, maybe even from themselves. 
2. Find their motivation. Once you know their secrets and lie, you should be able to discover their motivation. This is a vital key to plotting your story. Even if you are a seat-of-the-pants writer, you need to know this. It colors your character's worldview and is responsible for how they think and react to any situation. It's the WHY they want what they do.

3. What's the worst that could happen? Once you know what they fear, make sure it happens. What if it isn't the way you want the story to go? Then make the threat of it happening real. However, I highly suggest trying to weave it into the story. Besides, finding a save for the character could create a great plot point. Maggie's greatest fear in In High Cotton, was losing her son. I had to make it happen. I didn't want to, and it wrenched my heart. But it made the book so much better. 

In my current WIP, I was brainstorming with critique partner Michelle Griep, and she reminded me of this tip by asking me that question. I told her what that was, and she wisely said, “Then that’s what has to happen.” Yikes! That was absolutely not in my plot. But guess what? It takes this story so much deeper! I love it when she makes me do what I preach. 

4. Go one worse: Donald Maas teaches in his Writing the Breakout Novel, once you know what's the worst thing that could happen, go one worse for the character. That was a hard lesson for me to learn, but it worked. In my latest release, In High Cotton, reviewers have mentioned the suspense in the story. For this author, that's high praise, since I don't try for suspense only conflict.

If you've had trouble getting enough conflict or tension in your stories, try these 4 tips. Do you have any tips for me? How do you find your conflict?


Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw Mary Martin in PETER PAN, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. Years later, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her websiteAmazon Author pageFacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest and The Write Conversation.


  1. Thank you Ane for the very specific checklist to ensure my characters are interesting as I revise my novel. :)

    1. You're welcome. I've surrounded myself with various checklists to help me.

  2. Excellent tips. Conflict makes stories better, or I should say, how the characters react to conflict.
    Great article, Ane.

    1. Thank you, Ingmar. You're absolutely right. The character's reaction is so important.

  3. Great advice! My second novel was rolling right along with nice people doing nice things and everything working out (nicely)-- when BAM! Somebody asked me "What's your character's WOUND?" It was a game-changer!

  4. Good ideas. But what if you are writing a middle-grade book and a gang of church kids set off to solve a mystery of stolen Bibles. Different members of the gang tell their part of the story. What if you don't have a main protagonist? Just asking.