My youngest daughter is 11, and she hates conflict. I don’t mean only conflict in real life. I mean conflict in stories. If she’s watching a movie or TV show and the characters start to fight or there’s a big battle against the bad guys, she’ll either look away, skip the scene, or turn it off. I’ve tried to explain to her that there wouldn’t be much of a story without the conflict, but she’s not buying it. She wants everyone to be happy all of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great characteristic in a kid, and I love that about her. And in real life, I prefer to have as little conflict as possible. You probably do too.
But “everyone’s happy all the time” doesn’t make for a great story.
As readers, we go into a book knowing there’s going to be some conflict. Actually, there are probably going to be many conflicts of many different types. For example:
Person vs. Person: When we think of this kind of conflict, we might think of the hero or heroine facing off against a “bad guy.” And it can certainly be that. But every romance has person vs. person conflict in the form of the hero and the heroine. This doesn’t mean they’re necessarily out to get each other or even that they dislike each other. But there’s something that comes between them, something that keeps them from getting together and living happily ever after right from page one, and that something is conflict. For example, in my book Not Until Forever, the conflict is that Sophie and Spencer dated in college and she rejected his marriage proposal. It’s going to be hard to overcome that!
People vs. Nature: Conflict doesn’t come only in the form of other people. The setting can also cause plenty of conflict. Maybe it’s a big storm that destroys buildings. Maybe it’s a blizzard that traps the hero and heroine together. It could even be too much sun causing sunburn. I admit that I love to include people vs. nature conflict in my books, both because it’s highly relatable (who hasn’t experienced a conflict with the weather!) and because it can amp up all sorts of other conflicts (like what if the hero and heroine are trapped in a blizzard together…and they can’t stand each other?). I think my biggest people vs. nature conflict occurs in Not Until This Day (but I won’t spoil what it is, in case you haven’t read that one yet!).
People vs. Society: This one is interesting to me because it can take so many forms. It could be something as big as a fight against injustice. Or something as “small” as not fitting in. For example, I would say part of the conflict in my book Pieces of Forever is that Ava’s scarred face separates her from society…or at least she feels like it does.
Person vs. Self: Oh, this is a good one, and it’s one I think you’ll find in nearly every Christian romance, as the characters are dealing not only with external struggles against the world around them but also their internal struggles. Maybe they’ve experienced an event in their past that makes them distrustful of others. Or maybe they don’t think they’re worthy of love. Maybe they struggle with figuring out who they really are. Ultimately, because they (like us) have a sinful human nature, they’ll also be struggling against that human nature and sin.
And of course, the only way to overcome that struggle against our sinful human nature is through the ultimate conflict: God vs. Satan. Fortunately, that conflict has already been won. Through Jesus’ triumph at the cross, we have the promise that our sins are forgiven. And because that conflict has already been won, we can also look forward to a conflict-free eternity with our Savior. In fact, it will be so conflict free that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
So a lack of conflict may not make for great storytelling, but my daughter has one thing right: it makes for the best happy ending of all. Ours, in heaven.
Your turn: What are your favorite types of conflict to see in books? Do books ever have too much or not enough conflict for you?
Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you: my book Not Until Now is FREE through tomorrow only. Talk about conflict! Let’s just say it isn’t exactly love at first sight with Cam and Kayla. :)