Revise: Remember the 4 Sources of Conflict


Conflict, the type that motivates and moves a plot, comes from four sources.

Yesterday, an editor asked for revisions on a very short piece which was meant for a kindergarten or first grade audience. The editor didn’t like the competitiveness between siblings. But when she contemplated taking out that conflict, she correctly understood that the story lacked something. Could I fix it, she asked. course, my first reaction was, “Don’t edit out that conflict!”

But it’s always unhelpful to try to protect your words and ideas from the collaboration of an editor who knows her audience. So, I sat and thought about the story. Sometimes, you just need to apply what you already know, and I know that there are four types of conflict in a story:

  1. Conflict with Society. This is a quiet story and it simply didn’t have elements that would allow this option.
  2. Conflict with Someone Else. That conflict had been ruled out by the editor. I might could have found some other way to include conflict, but my feeling was they wanted a gentle but fun story, without that kind of interpersonal conflict.
  3. Conflict with Self. I already had the character trying something very difficult and sticking with it.
  4. Conflict with Nature. Ah, maybe I could add in just the briefest touch of this type conflict. The main character’s task could be considered as a struggle against nature.

In the end, I added a line near the beginning that hinted at conflict with nature, then a line at the end which resolved it.

In the meantime, I tried to add a touch of humor in a couple other exchanges.

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