Plot Not Working? Think Conflict.

By Victoria Sherrow
How do we make sure readers will worry about our characters and root for them to resolve problems and reach their goals? First, the problem or goal should be meaningful–something needs to be at stake. But even with a strong plot problem and appealing main character, a story can fall flat.
Conflict might be the missing ingredient. A conflict can involve person-vs-person, person-vs.-society, and/or person-vs.-nature. Many internal conflict situations test the character’s values. He or she experiences conflict while struggling to make a decision. Choices can be difficult if each option has pros and cons or if the options seem equally appealing or unappealing.
For example, suppose Marcie is invited to a party that includes the most popular kids at school. The party sounds awesome, and Marcie wants to go, but her best friend Anna wasn’t invited. Marcie worries that Anna will be hurt and upset if she goes to the party instead of hanging out together like they usually do. As Marcie struggles with her decision, conflicts arise. Each choice has an upside and a downside. Other conflicts arise when characters must choose whether to be true to themselves or go along with the group. Or they might face the moral dilemma of acting in a dishonest way to protect a friend or to obtain something they want.
So, test your story plot: Is the problem or goal meaningful? Have you developed enough conflict?
Victoria Sherrow is the author of more than 100 books for children and teens. She teaches Writing for Children and Teens at the Fairfield County Writers’ Studio.