Within the context of a story, what is the difference between conflict, tension, and suspense?
This quote from James Scott Bell emphasizes the importance of conflict:
“We start to care about characters when trouble—or the hint of it—comes along, which is why, whenever I sign a copy of Conflict & Suspense, I always write, Make trouble!”
Conflict influences tension and suspense.
- Conflict results from opposing forces. For example, character versus:
- Tension occurs as readers anticipate more conflict.
- Suspense grows as the conflict remains unresolved, and readers wonder, What happens next to the lead character?
In other words, without conflict you can’t have tension and suspense.
The external conflict represents the problem the main character wants to overcome. As a result, conflict moves the plot forward. For instance, the external conflict draws protagonist’s attention toward the internal conflict. Above all, readers want to know how the protagonist will resolve the problem.
The internal conflict is the wrestling match within the character’s mind. Because of this inner turmoil, the character struggles with thoughts, choices, speech, and actions. Emotions resonate with readers, conveying the story’s theme through realistic behaviors.
For example, conflict increasingly frustrates the protagonist’s efforts to accomplish a goal. As a result, that frustration increases the lead character’s awareness of the need to change.
Readers engage at the intersection of conflict, stakes, want, and need:
- Firstly, a conflict blocks hero’s resolution of goal.
- Secondly, stakes spur hero to pursue goal despite conflict.
- Thirdly, hero’s misbeliefs drive want and behaviors.
- Fourthly, and most importantly, hero’s need blocks change.
Conflict engages readers’ emotions. The audience gets caught up in the lives of characters, so add sizzle to their lives with conflict.
Want to know more? Check out the character template!