I've been trying to write the plot for characters I've developed for months and I can never come up with a good enough conflict. I can develop characters for days but once it comes to writing conflict I'm at a complete loss. Nothing ever seems good enough or interesting enough. The story is supposed to have a dark undertone and takes place near the sea in the 20's. I'm at a loss after that...
Characters Without Conflict
Before we talk about conflicts, make sure that you’re judging what’s good enough and interest enough on the right scale. Your scale. You might be afraid that no one will like it because it’s been done, or because no one is reading stuff like this, or because it doesn’t feel like enough action. But whether or not something is good enough starts with you.
The first thing you need to do is gain some confidence. Take a look @maxkirin‘s story idea test. Once you accept the truth of this post, you’ll feel a lot better. But now, onto adding conflict when all you’ve got is characters.
1) Character Drama
Examine the relationships between your characters and find things for them to fight about. The way they’re each living their lives, or a crucial decision that needs to be made, an unforgivable act that one of them committed, a secret that was kept. Find sources of drama between the two of them. It may be that whatever you come up with is enough to drive an entire story.
2) The Dead Body Trick
This is going to sound cliche, but the dead body trick works well. Have your characters stumble onto a body or witness something being murdered. Then imagine the possibilities of what comes after. Do they become suspects in the murder when they discover the body? Are they threatened by the murderer when their presence is discovered? Are they more tied to the murder than it seems on the surface?
The dead body trick need not apply only to strangers either. Have one of your characters going through a recent loss of someone, and write how the person died to help inspire you to tell the story.
You can also apply this trick to one of your existing characters. Choose someone from your cast and say “This person is going to die at the end of the story.” Now you work backwards to determine why and how that’s going to happen. You’re forced to develop a conflict that results in this outcome.
3) Use Your Setting
In the case of this anon, setting can help you develop conflict. If the story takes place in a specific time period and location, there will likely be historical and regional events that can create conflict surrounding your characters. If we’re talking the 1920s in America, you’ve got prohibition that immediately creates conflict as people choose sides. If the story takes place near waterways, you’ve got potential issues of storms, tourism, merchant and commercial importing/exporting, fishermen trade and their agreements with local restaurants and seafood shops. Look at the issues facing the people in your time period/setting and see how your characters fit into those issues. What roles do they play? What problems will they face in these roles?
4) Start With Just One Problem
Don’t try to overwhelm yourself by thinking of a half a dozen plot arcs to keep the story moving. Start with just one, and follow it through to conclusion. When you’ve identified one problem, keep asking yourself A) How can it get worse and B) What will my character do about it? Both of these questions will help you move to the next part of the story. When you have a complete narrative arc surrounding one problem, it’ll be easier to think about things like subplots and how to add complexity to the story overall.
These are just some ideas to get you going. Keep brainstorming and thinking. Be patient with yourself through this process. It can take months before you find that magical “Aha!” revelation where everything in your story just falls into place.