How To Keep Your Story Conflict Active In Every Scene

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Your story follows your Protagonist on a journey to achieve a story goal, and your Antagonist trying to stop them. As long as these characters are motivated, your story conflict is active. I’ll explain why an active story conflict is essential to keep your story moving forwards and entertaining.

Your Protagonist Becomes Active At The Inciting Incident

The Inciting Incident of your story is the moment your protagonist transitions from passive to active. Prior to the inciting incident there is no story conflict because your protagonist isn’t trying to achieve anything. Once they set out to achieve a goal, your story conflict is active.

Your antagonist is the character that throws challenges in front of them. With no challenges there is no story. Your protagonist could just set a goal and achieve it. Job done. You need your antagonist to be as motivated and active as your protagonist in order to have a story. Consider your antagonist to be the protagonist in their own story and put just as much focus on their motivation.

Your protagonist and antagonist are set against one another. Your story follows them competing to achieve their story goal. For instance, if your protagonist is a police officer, your antagonist could be a bank robber. Your antagonist becomes active when they set out to rob the bank. They are motivated with a clear goal; to steal money. Your protagonist becomes active when they learn about the planned robbery. They are motivated with a clear goal; to stop them stealing money. The story conflict is that they both want something, and they can’t both have it. The bank can’t both be robbed and not robbed.

Keeping Story Conflict Active

The key to keeping your story conflict active is to make sure your characters are always motivated. Don’t let them rest or settle, don’t let them be satisfied. It’s essential your story conflict is active in every single scene.

If they are satisfied prior to the resolution of your story conflict, then what they wanted can’t have been that important. Make sure your audience can see that your story conflict matters to your character. If it doesn’t matter to your character, it won’t matter to your audience. If it doesn’t matter to your audience, there’s no point in them showing up to read it.

When your characters aren’t actively in pursuit of their story goal, your story isn’t moving. Its still. The pace of your story can slow down or speed up, depending on the scene. But if it is completely still, then your story is pointless and boring. Your audience won’t be hooked to keep reading if nothing is happening. They showed up for a story so give them one. If your audience is bored because nothing is happening, they’ll walk away and not feel the need to come back.

Keep Focused On Motivation

What your characters want in each scene can vary. The main story conflict won’t be pressing them at every moment at full intensity. In a scene where your police officer is fighting with her husband about him forgetting her birthday, the bank robbery won’t be on the top of her mind. But it will still be there. It will still shape her responses, steal her attention. He might blame her for not putting attention on their relationship because she’s so focused on work. She might be angry that she took time away from work for a birthday celebration that never happened.

You can have multiple lines of conflict in every single scene. In fact, the more conflict there is, the more entertaining your story will be. However, the main story conflict will still be present. Your protagonist will still be focused on what they want, even if other motivations are competing for attention.

Why Story Conflict Matters

By keeping the focus of every single scene one what they’re motivated to achieve and why, your story conflict will always be active. Your story will move forwards, be entertaining, and keep your audience interested. By not letting them rest or get distracted from your main story conflict, your story will feel important. Side adventures away from your main plot, distractions about other issues taking over, make your story feel like it doesn’t matter.

During editing you might read over your story and see a scene that isn’t as plot relevant because the story conflict isn’t active. If that scene can be lifted out and your story still make sense, then it’s time to be brutal. Kill your darlings. Kill that scene. An active story conflict is the key to writing an entertaining and captivating story. So never let it drop.

You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get. If you’ve found my work helpful, please consider dropping me a tip in my Paypal tip jar to help me keeping bringing you free writing advice!

Keeping story conflict active, JJ Barnes Writing Advice

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I'm author, writer, screenwriter and filmmaker. I've always been passionate about stories, both on the page and on the screen, and now I'm lucky enough that I've been able to turn that passion into a career.

Myfirst novel, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit was the first release from Siren stories and launched the Siren Stories Universe (the SSU). Now there are multiple stories, on page and screen, all connected and exploring the world I first began to develop all those years ago. Find all my books here.

Hollowhood, the first independent film from myself and my writing partner, Jonathan McKinney, is currently in post-production. Making my own film has been an incredible experience and only affirmed my love of all things to do with film. From the camera to the costumes, I will always love everything about being on set.

As well as releasing my own stories, I'm hoping to spread love and passion for the art of story telling to others, by guiding you through different aspect of writing. I do a series of Writing Advice videos for adults, and a Creative Writing For Kids series, both on YouTube. I'm also releasing regular Writing Advice blog posts explaining different writing techniques and advice for how to get the most out of your writing experience.

Other than writing, my life is mostly spent with my partner, Jonathan McKinney, our three children, Rose, Ezekiel and Buffy, and our extremely foolish Springer Spaniel, Molly.

I love reading books, watching TV, and falling asleep during movies. When Jon comes to bed he usually finds me face down with my face on a book, or hiding under the duvet waiting for him to protect me because I've got myself in a dither reading a ghost story.

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