The Crime Writers' Association

The Debuts

‘A matter of conflict’ by John Dean

I have just started work on my latest crime novel for the good people at The Book Folks and have spent quite a bit of time working through the plot. At the heart of the process has been a concentration on conflict because it is conflict that will drive the story.

But why is conflict so important in writing? Because stories need things to happen and that usually comes out of conflict – characters argue, fight, feud etc. Two people having a chat in which they agree with each other can be written so that it is enjoyable and compelling for the reader but a scene in which they disagree has so much more going for it. That is certainly true of crime fiction.

It is through seeing characters in conflict that we see them at their truest, when their guard is down, when they are fighting for something, when their true emotions are laid bare.

Also, as a writer you can develop a character through conflict: a meek character faced with adversity finds hidden strength, a powerful character finds themselves challenged, a cosy façade can be shattered.

Conflict also provides the writer with a structure for their story, a story to tell. It gives the writer the framework to take the story on: a factory is closed sparking anger from the workforce, two friends fall out over money, a community is torn apart by an event. All these conflicts are a rich hunting ground for the writer and a quick glance at real-life will provide thousands more.

Finally, conflict makes for good drama allowing it to evoke strong feelings in the reader, prompting them to take sides, to root for the ‘good guys’ and turn against the ‘bad guys’. If that is happening then writing is easier.

It also allows you to surprise the reader by challenging what they think they know about the characters through revealing unexpected information; the villain becomes the hero, the hero reveals themselves as deeply flawed.

We’d all like to lead peaceable lives but for the crime writer – for all writers, I would suggest – a bit of conflict goes a long way!

You can find out more about John and his books here.

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