Conflict always drives fiction. In real life, we may wish for things to fall into place easily, days go by smoothly, and relationships unfold effortlessly. But in fiction, nothing can be easy—because easy equates to boring. Watch the vlog below for all the details, or skip through to the list below.
Plots and subplots take on greater significance if they contain one of the Most Stressful Events, as defined by the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale:
Death of a spouse, a child or a close friend or family member. Especially when this takes place at the beginning of the book, it can take us on a journey to discover the cause of death or the events that unfolded culminating in the death. It can also serve as a departure point for the future, such as the surviving spouse learning to redefine his or her life without the one they love. It can also become an investigation into a double life or secrets hidden. And it can also open the door into the afterlife, such as Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come.
Imprisonment. I can’t mention imprisonment without bringing to mind The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, which begins with the imprisonment of an innocent man into a corrupt and cruel prison system. Imprisonment is also a common theme outside the law, particularly with the kidnapping of young women or children, leading the parents or someone close to the missing person on a quest to discover how and why they were captured—and of course, to attempt to free them.
Work. This plot lends itself to an infinite variety of genres, as the characters’ vocations are key elements. It could begin with something traumatic happening at work that catapults our hero into a journey of mystery, romance or adventure. It could be a character study in how one person melts down due to work stress and how each decision that person makes impacts countless others. It can also include a new job or retirement, both of which cast the hero into a new situation. My book Vicki’s Key begins with Vicki leaving her job at the CIA after a failed mission, embarking on a new journey to a small town where she hopes—but doesn’t get—a peaceful transition to civilian life. (See trailer below.) Work can also include war, palace intrigue, historical backdrops, and a variety of locations and scenes.
In each of these situations, we place the main character into an unknown situation where they must adjust to changes they may not have wanted or even imagined. It is the conflict that propels the story forward, placing the reader into their shoes and causing us to ask ourselves what we would do if we were caught in a similar situation. We may even straddle the fine line between good and evil, sanity and unhealthy states of mind—or even circumstances that could cause an otherwise law-abiding citizen to go off the rails. In all of these situations, we know the hero—and perhaps other characters—will be transformed at the end of the journey.