Harmony and Conflict – Different Sides of the Same Coin

By Donna Schlachter

Boy finds girl.
Boy falls in love with girl.
Boy marries girl.
The end.

Boring!

Anybody who’s ever told a joke knows that to keep the listener or reader interested, there has to be a problem, a question, or a problem raised so that the twist/conclusion/punch line offers a solution. In a joke, there is usually an unexpected outcome, which is what makes that short story version humorous. In a novel, while the reader wants a good ending, or at least one that’s unexpected given the circumstances, there has to be something that keeps the boy from getting the girl the first time. Or the second. Or even the third.

Harmony is what happens when we get our happily-ever-after (and yes, HEAs are not limited to romance stories. Readers want an HEA or at least the promise of one in every story where a romance exists. Unless, of course, your story is literary fiction or a tragedy.)

Conflict is what keeps the reader reading and the listener listening. Conflict doesn’t have to appear as bickering or even out-and-out street brawling. Conflict happens when one of the main characters isn’t getting what they want—or what they think they want.

Introduce Conflict and Harmony

We can introduce conflict and harmony into our stories in various ways. Here are a few:

  • Through spoken dialogue, where each character expresses their wants and desires which should be contrary to what the other person wants. Think back to your last discussion with your spouse or friend about where you wanted to eat that night. One wants Indian, the other wants pasta. Conflict. Harmony appears when you reach a compromise: a buffet. Or a salad bar.
  • Through internal dialogue, where you show us what the characters are thinking. The best conflict comes when their spoken dialogue and internal thoughts are contrary to each other. For example, if you say you want to eat pizza, but the other person says curry, you might say, “Okay. Curry is fine with me.” You always get your way. But I’m tired of fighting about it.
  • Through narrative, you can use the setting or surroundings to impact your point of view character. For example, ‘It was a dark and dreary night” could be perfect for a scene where your character planned to go for a walk, and now can’t because the weather isn’t cooperating. Downpouring rain could prevent your hero from rescuing your heroine, building conflict in himself. And in her, when she wonders why he won’t brave a few raindrops to save her. A bright sunny day could build conflict in a character whose mother is being buried today. Or harmony in a woman whose abusive husband is being buried today.
  • Through occupations or skill sets, you can have characters who solve problems (create harmony) using what they know. For example, if your hero is a race car driver, he could get the heroine away from bad guys by outdriving them. And if your heroine is a doctor, she could fix up the hero when he gets shot. But if your story is about finding lost gold in a hidden mine, none of their skills would help out. Which could create conflict. So then they invite somebody else in to help, who turns out to be a bad guy who shoots the hero and leaves them for dead. Now their skills can come in handy again. So you went from harmony to conflict to harmony again.

Don’t get me wrong—harmony and conflict belong in the same story—even in the same scene. You might even treat a scene like a mini-story – harmony (current world) to conflict (inciting incident) to new harmony (resolution). However, while you don’t want to write every scene like that, these mini-breaks from the conflict are a place where readers will exhale, relax, and continue reading. That’s a great place to slap them in the face again with another problem, question, or serious choice to be made.

Readers want to be satisfied with the ending, yet surprised. Like a punchline in a joke, they like to look at the world differently because of your story. Keep them reading by employing some of these harmony and conflict techniques, and they’ll come back for more.

Resources:

Conflict is the Driving Force of a Good Story

Character and Background: Harmony and Conflict


Donna Schlachter, Headshot

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.

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