Writing Fiction: The Importance of Conflict and Tension in a Short Story

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Writing Fiction: The Importance of Conflict and Tension in a Short Story

Where does a story start? Sometimes for a writer of fiction, the story starts with a detail of setting, or a character trait, or an idea for an initial situation. There are as many ways to start a story as there are stories. But no matter where a story finds its beginnings, to function as a literary work a story must follow an arc. That arc includes the key points listed below.

Story arc

Plot is often schematically represented as an arc reflecting the rising action described in the following phases:

  1. Initial situation - the beginning. It is the first incident that makes the story move.

  2. Conflict or Problem - goal which the main character of the story has to achieve.

  3. Complication or Rising action- obstacles which the main character has to overcome.

  4. Climax - highest point of interest of the story.

  5. Suspense or Falling action- point of tension. It arouses the interest of the readers.

  6. Dénouement or Resolution - what happens to the character after overcoming all obstacles (or failing to achieve the desired result) and reaching (or not reaching) the goal.

  7. Conclusion - the end result of the climax.

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_(narrative))

One of the best ways to write a fulfilling and interesting short story is to decide early on what the conflict will be, develop the conflict through the use of obstacles and tension, and then resolve the conflict (either positively or negatively).

One mistake beginning writers sometimes make is to underestimate the importance of the conflict. A story with a conflict that is flimsy or not believable will not sustain a reader’s interest even if it has the most beautiful description, narration, and dialogue. Stories with cliché or over-used conflicts often also fail to sustain a reader’s attention.
So how can you use conflict and tension to your benefit in a story? Here are some easy tips:

  • Make the conflict believable.

  • Make the conflict unique.

  • Make the conflict clear.

  • Use dialogue to create tension.

  • Use tension to create suspense.

  • Set characters at odds with each other.

  • Make sure the characters show some kind of growth or change at the end of the story.

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