Conflict and pressure

I’ve been wrestling with my newest WIP. I spent a lot of today thinking about plot and in doing so I had a bit of an epiphany about what drives plot forward.

It seems to me there are two components. There’s the central conflict, which is the obvious one. This involves the primary antagonist who shows up in the final climax at the end of the book, and centers around a goal.

And then there’s pressure. It’s what influences the main character, what drives them to make the decisions they do. It may be positive or negative, internal or external, involve an ally or antagonist, may or may not show up in the climax, but it’s consistent and is the reason the main character makes the decisions/actions that spin the plot forward.

My stories usually have a mid-point climax, some big, emotional, usually game-changing scene at roughly the halfway point, and a final climax. The final climax is the resolution of the central conflict. But I realized that my mid-point climax is always primarily affecting (or affected by) the pressure, not the conflict. It always changes the character’s motivations, not their options.

I’m a pantser, so don’t usually know all the details of my story before I start writing anyway, but I was struggling this time. I knew the mid-point climax and thought writing toward that would be enough, that I’d figure out the final climax as I wrote. But, I realized, because the mid-point climax is pressure-based, not conflict-based, while I know who does what (and roughly why) and how it changes the main character, they aren’t the antagonists of the story. I realized I didn’t know who the antagonist was. Seems obvious to me now, but I’d been confusing the pressure with the conflict.

So now I’ve figured that out, and I think I can start writing again, more confidently this time! Thank goodness. I hate being stalled.

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One response to “Conflict and pressure

  1. Congrats on making progress. My on-hold manuscript is the only one with a real outline b/c I got stalled about 2/3 of the way through a first draft. I’ll end up re-writing a lot of that, but it’ll be better for it.

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