What makes for a great story? The answer is simple: conflict.
A story without conflict is like a bourbon Manhattan without a zesty orange rind. It’s like an egg-salad sandwich without jalapeño peppers. It’s like a long bike ride without a sprint finish.
In the literary arena, there are three main types of conflict that drive the plot of a great story: man vs. man, man vs. nature and man vs. himself. Some stories will have two or all three types of conflict. (I will talk more about these in upcoming articles.)
A good story – fiction or non-fiction – needs conflict!
My wife and I have traveled the world with her company over the past 30+ years. One of our former travel companions was an older gent who loved to write. It didn’t matter what city we were in, he would sit by himself for hours with his yellow notepad and a pencil journaling about his travels.
A few years ago, knowing I had an interest in writing, he approached me and asked if I would be willing to take a look at a manuscript he had been working on. I told him I’d be happy to. A week after we returned home, I received a large, heavy package via FedEx. I opened the envelope and pulled out a neatly bundled ream of papers – 650 pages of single spaced typing in a small font. My heart sank when I recalled my promise to review his manuscript.
I started at the beginning and worked my way through 50 pages before stopping. Honestly, from a grammatical standpoint, he was a decent writer. However, it seemed the entire manuscript was nothing but a collection of random musings from 35 years of world travel. There was no conflict of any kind.
After resting my eyes and my red pen, I started working on the next part of his manuscript where he had written stories about his family. Turns out, there was a bit of dysfunction in that family, which made the stories he told about his kids compelling, both funny and sad!
In its entirety, I knew his story would not hold the interest of the average reader. It would have made for a nice piece of family history, but I doubt anybody would have been able to slog through the entire book.
I finished editing half the manuscript before I wrote him a letter with some ideas on what I thought he could do to make it more readable. I never heard back from him, and I heard recently that he passed away, so I’m not sure if he ever published his work.
If you want to write a book, your story must have conflict! It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for your family and friends or if you want to sell books to the public. If your storyline doesn’t have conflict, nobody will find it interesting.