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How to Write a Novel: The Difference Between Conflict and Complications

This question came up in the absolute write forums and I thought it would be a good topic to do a blog post about. Why? Because these two things are often confused.

First what is conflict? Conflict is usual tension between the MC and something or someone, usually acting as a type of antagonist because they either a) want the same thing, but only one can get it, b) the antagonists stands in the way of something the MC wants, or c) the antagonist wants something that threatens the MC or sometimes all of humanity. The MC’s job is to essentially combat it and inevitably, the two will clash, creating conflict, the focal point of a novel.

So let’s take the conflict that I came up with in a previous post:

A girl has to save the world from a maniac who wants to ‘correct the social order’ by making women the slaves they were meant to be and making men completely dominant, no exceptions.

So this is pretty much the conflict. The girl wants there to be some form of equality of the sexes (or maybe even the other way around) and the maniac wants women as slaves.

Now the complications are the things that escalate the tension of the conflict and make thins much more difficult overall as the MC tries to work through the conflict to achieve a goal. Complications just make things much harder for the MC to achieve. Complication can actually act like sub-conflicts too. So complications for this conflict would be:

Meets hot guy who sometimes distracts her
Starts to flunk school
Brother seems to sympathize with sexist maniac’s cause
Sexist maniacs kidnaps best friend and violates and brutalizes her

The complications here act like plots to, that is to say event that happen in the story, driven or caused by the presence of the conflict. But these complications overall escalate the tension in the novel and make the conflict all the more difficult. Complications also throw the MC for a doozy when they come out of nowhere and aren’t expected in the original course of the conflict. Hell, they throw the writer for a doozy sometimes.

So that’s the difference between the conflict and the complication and make sure you know the conflict because focusing on complication can make the writer loose what the overall conflict is. So if the complication doesn’t do much to make the MC’s goal harder or is just there for the sake of words, you may not need to have it in the story.

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