Creating and Beefing Up the Conflict
By Karen Cioffi
Your story has a great beginning—a great hook that will capture the reader instantly. You have an interesting, funny, or mischievous protagonist who will keep the reader engaged. But will it be enough to keep the reader turning the pages to end? Is there something missing?
Children’s stories aren’t what they use to be. Granted many stories of years ago did have conflict, they would not cut it in today’s children’s market.
In today’s children’s writing world, writing must be tight and focused. And, you need conflict. The conflict is like a detour or obstacle in the road from point A to point B. The protagonist must figure out a way over, around, or under it.
Tommy wants more than anything to play baseball, but he’s not very good. The other boys never willingly choose him for their team. How will Tommy overcome this problem?
What if Tommy gets the best bat and glove on the market—will this make him a better ball player?
Kristen’s friends all have new bikes, but she has her older sister’s hand-me-down. Kristen needs to figure out a way to get a new bike.
What if Kristen finally gets a new bike and leaves it unattended at the park. It gets stolen. She’s afraid to tell her parents, so keeps this little bit of information to herself. But, how long can she keep this up.
What if Billy has a run in with the school bully and ever since he’s harassed everyday. How can Billy get out of this mess?
So, the way to create and build conflict is to use “how” and “what if” to generate conflict and get your story off the ground and flying.
In the article “What to Aim For When Writing,” Margot Finke advises, “A slow build up of tension gives good pace. Dropping hints and clues builds tension, which in turn moves your story along. Short, punchy sentences give better pace than longwinded lines.”
For chapter books, middle grade, and young adult, Finke advises to keep the reader engaged by ending each paragraph with a kind of cliff-hanger. This doesn’t mean you need a life and death scenario, just something that entices the reader to move onto the next chapter to find out what happens. In addition, to increase your story’s pace in certain sections, use shorter chapters. Chapters with 5-7 pages creates the sense of a quicker pace.
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