I was looking over one of my unfinished pieces of fiction, trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with it before taking it down the path of becoming a finished piece of fiction and one thought kept popping into my head:
“This is boring.”
That’s a rather painful realization to have about a work-in-progress, it’s it better to find out sooner than later if a story lacks the stuff to keep a reader reading.
So what makes a it boring?
I pondered that for a few minutes, thinking the plot is solid, the pacing is right, the language is quick…so what’s the problem? The problem is that there’s not enough conflict. The characters meet up, “weapon up,” and happily go from thing to thing with little challenge and the whole novel feels like an early Final Fantasy game.
Other than a few well-planned-out plot points, the conflict in the novel is nearly non-existent. And that is what makes it boring.
I picked out some random scenes to read, looking at which parts seemed boring due to lack of conflict (external as well as internal) and jotted down this quick list of problems, relating to characters and conflict.
So here are the four areas of improvement my novel needs in regard to conflict.
The characters have it too easy
This goes back to that earlier Final Fantasy example. As a kid addicted to NES/SNES Role-Playing Games, I was always critical of anything by Square Soft, and the Final Fantasy series in particular. The reason was that I felt the games weren’t open-ended enough, and the person holding the controller wasn’t doing any of the real work. You weren’t playing the game; you were just watching it.
So guy, king, or whatever, would tell you to do something, and then you’d go do it. And then you’d go back and receive your next “quest.” There no challenge. Just go from thing to thing.
That is the exact problem I see in my current WIP. There’s no challenge. The characters just keep doing what they’re supposed to do, until the final battle with the big bad guy sends everyone home happy.
This problem is not so easy to just “fix” as it will take some rewriting. But I think most of the overall plot can stay put. Just make things a little tougher for your character to get to that next plot point. Look for parts that seem “too easy” and make them a little harder.
They get along too well
This is almost sickening. The characters I’m looking at here joke together, cry together, work together, but never argue. It’s all one big happy family, only without the tension and bickering that a real happy family has. Not only can this lack of inter-character conflict make your story boring, it also makes your characters unrealistic.
Remember that real people have disagreements. All the time. And I’m not saying you need to have your characters start throwing chairs at each other or anything like that, but a little bit of arguing can go a long way. Add some tension by making it subtle.
They all act and think the same way
This is a huge problem with a lot of my fiction. I tend to write stories in small-town Nebraska, so as you might imagine, there’s not a lot of ethnic or religious diversity there.
But ethnic and religious diversity isn’t the only type of diversity out there. And diversity is necessary in fiction if you don’t want your characters to all sound the same.
Differentiate your characters as well as you can when it comes to appearance and language, but also in the actions they take. What kind of moral code or background does each character have that may influence the actions he or she may take? One character may be quick to fight, while another might be quick to run. Look at each character as an individual and keep it consistent.
They have no inner conflict
I used the phrase “moral code” in the previous section. This is another big problem I see in some of my earlier drafts. The characters have no moral code, and thus, no inner conflict. In good fiction, characters are forced to make tough decisions. The struggle that inner conflict causes is sometimes a larger, and more memorable conflict than the one resulting from dragons or aliens or whatever.
So keep it real. Give your characters something to struggle with. Will they make a choice that goes against their moral code in order to “win” or will they have a “good vs. evil” thing taking place in their head?
And that’s it. Funny thing is I was going to title this post “Four Quick Ways to Add Conflict to Your Story.” Well, obviously, some of these aren’t all that quick. But nobody ever said writing was easy.
If you’ve got some boring parts in your current WIP, see if your characters are lacking conflict in the same way mine were. And after you fix it, leave a comment and let us know how you did!