To Make Conflict Sizzle, Shift Your Perspective

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How many times have you been in this situation? You have a strong opinion about someone (or something). You’re firm in how you feel about them, and you have good, logical reasons to feel that way. But someone else—someone you respect and like—sees things completely differently. Enter, conflict.

In fiction, our most riveting stories are built on conflicts like this, where all parties are equally  convicted of their own, opposing beliefs. And each party stands in the way of the others’ objectives.

Here are four ways to manipulate perspective in order to create more compelling conflicts in your stories.

1. Same Situation, Different Points of View

As hard as it is to remember sometimes, opinion is not fact. And when two characters have opposing opinions of the same person, event, or situation, conflict is just around the corner.

Susan loves spending weekends at the lake house. She sees it as a time to unwind, put her busy day job behind her, and relax. But for Corinne, who thrives on social activities and loves the vibrance of downtown nightlife, the weekends away are isolating.

Two characters’ opposing perspectives about a third character can cause problems, too. For example, your protagonist’s best friend hates your protagonist’s boyfriend; or one brother is weirded out by the grumpy old man who lives next door, but the other thinks he’s just lonely.

2. Same Idea, Different Approach

Your characters may have the same objectives, but one’s tactics may be baffling to the other. 

Jan and Ellen’s dad just moved into a smaller townhome, and he’s asked his daughters to help him sell the old house. Both women agree it needs to be remodeled before it goes on the market, but Jan wants to do all the work themselves, while Ellen would rather hire a contractor to take care of it.

Consider different approaches to parenting, or two lab partners’ ideas for the final project. Both sides want the same thing, but they disagree on how to get there.

3. New Behaviors

George wears the same jeans and black polo to work every. single. day. So when he shows up one Monday in slacks, a button down, and blazer, the office is abuzz, and George’s boss assumes he’s interviewing for a new job.

When we know someone really well, we can almost always predict how they’re going to behave or react in a given situation. (That’s why character development is so important for authors!) But what happens when someone we know well starts to surprise us? Perhaps a partner gets angry at something that would normally not phase him, or a friend who’s always ten minutes early misses an appointment without texting first?

Broken expectations are ripe for conflict.

4. Internal Conflict: Head vs. Heart

John has been planning a weekend getaway with his college buddies for months, but when he makes a mistake at work (in a job he doesn’t like all that much, anyway) that results in pretty angry clients, his boss makes it clear that John is responsible for cleaning up the mess—by Monday. He has to decide between joining his friends as planned or making things right at work.

Competing perspectives don’t have to involve multiple people. Individual characters can struggle with themselves when their logic and emotions don’t match up, or when what they feel they have to do doesn’t match up with what they want to do or think they should do.

What’s your favorite way to ignite conflict in your writing? Share in the comments below!