The element of conflict
Conflict in a story refers to anything that acts as an obstacle to achieving his aim. When you assess your story, consider if the events are running too smoothly and whether the protagonist you are being opposed or tested. There is not a single person whose life’s journey is without some sort of problem. Similarly, in yours, there must have been a fight somewhere, an accident and theft or something that disturbs the narrative.
Clearly, not all conflict has to be huge, destructive or violent. In fact, conflict does not have to be external or involve others. An example of an internal conflict is a phobia that you may have. For instance, you are dating this beautiful girl and she is everything you dreamed of. Then, she suggests you fly off to the Maldives on a holiday. You can’t because you’re afraid of flying. Don’t just gloss over this by saying ‘Our relationship ended soon after.’ Instead, analyse the conversations you had (or couldn’t bring yourself to have) about this phobia. This will immediately make your story exciting.
The element of jeopardy
Always remember when writing your story that the idea is that you were someone in a place of jeopardy. This means that the more you have to lose or the bigger the possibility of failure on your part, the more exciting your story will be. You must lose or at least be at risk of losing everything.
The element of tension
Tension means that you always have to play the game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the reader. Never reveal all the information at once. Tell the reader enough so that he follows the story and his pulse quickens, but not so much that he can guess the plot.
One of the best ways to create tension is to write short and tight scenes. The dialogue often appears in clipped or staccato tones.
As you can see, when conflict, jeopardy, and tension are used, a simple story becomes more exciting and helps the reader resonate with the protagonist’s predicament. Use these suggestions to ensure that your story is properly developed. It will make your story irresistible.
Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time
In the previous article, all Sara did was to write the dialogue. Let’s revisit the last three sentences and see how she’s added the elements mentioned above to make her story better.
“Breathe, Sara, breathe.”
I looked at him. “Huh?”
Waving his hand up and down, he said, “Since you took the phone, you stopped breathing. You’re becoming pale. Breathe.” His eyes were hard and his voice stern.
There is one more element you can add to your story to make it interesting: the element of action. This is necessary because today, your average reader has been conditioned by television and wants stories that are fast-paced, move quickly, and have crisp dialogue. It’s the same with what they read. Here are some tips to ensure that you have enough action in your story:
- Don’t have too many minor characters crowding your story – in a short story, stick with no more than three characters.
- Make sure you avoid elaborate sketches of location and setting.
- Don’t spend precious words on long conversations that have no bearing on the tale whatsoever. Make sure every piece of conversation has meaning and is necessary.
Aneeta Sundararaj tells the stories of a diverse group of people from cardiologists and Ayurveda practitioners to independent financial advisors. ‘Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time’ is included in a collection of stories that she is working on. Subscribe to the free newsletter on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).