Storytelling Techniques - Layered Conflict
Never underestimate the power of conflict. Without it, stories wouldn’t exist.
No matter what the story is, your characters will disagree over things, dislike one another, argue, fight, hate antagonists, dislike themselves or situations they’re created or found themselves caught in, or disagree with things around them. This is exactly what happens in real life.
Such conflict makes life interesting, exciting, crazy, frustrating and, at times, hard. That’s because conflict creates all manner of emotions, which forms an essential ingredient in fiction and pushes the story forward to its conclusion.
Layered conflict is what it says – it’s a way for the writer to add layers of conflict throughout the story. This builds the drama and tension until the story reaches its conclusion. But conflict comes in different ways. Characters can come into conflict with other characters, they can come into conflict with their environment and they can come into conflict with themselves.
Often writers think that a story is constructed on the basis that there is just one conflict between the good guy and the bad guy. But dozens of conflicts will happen, sometimes simultaneously, all throughout the story. But it’s how we manage conflict that makes the difference, and how we weave them through the story.
A story plot requires a main conflict, which is generally between the protagonist and the antagonist and usually centres on a struggle between the two, because there is always something of importance at stake. This core conflict runs throughout the entire story, but around that there will be additional conflicts that develop and emerge.
Layered conflict is about placing ever increasing conflicts on top of the core conflict, and escalating it each time to increase drama, tension and emotion. That’s why, as writers, we create different ways for this to happen. This might involve different characters clashing with each other, getting in each other’s way and wanting different things. From this we see heightened emotions and feelings, and that’s where we get added drama and tension.
Another route comes from obstacles and complications, whether created by people or other influences; things the protagonist must overcome in order to move forward, and the frustrations this creates.
Subplots enhance additional problems and complications and can hide several layers of conflict. This might exist, for example, between the main character and a secondary character, in addition to the main conflict with the antagonist. There might also be inner conflict created within the main character. So there are several layers here, just in a subplot.
Now imagine a full novel plot structure that will have all different strands of conflict layered over the main plot’s conflict.
Core conflict + character conflict + obstacles and complications + subplots = lots of layers of conflict and therefore lots of tension, drama and emotion.And that’s just what the reader loves to read in any story.
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