Posted by: nancycurteman | July 14, 2014

Hard Choices Create Strong Conflict in Novels

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In every novel the choices characters must make lead to conflict. The more complex the choice or its ramifications, the greater the conflict. Consider some of these difficult choices.

• Choice that’s a leap in the dark. The character has no idea what will be the result of a given choice. All she knows is no choice most certainly will result in great sorrow or pain. Maybe choosing the unknown would result in something better.

• Impossible choices have no clear answer, which means the reader won’t see it coming. If you get your reader thinking, “I could never decide on one of these choices,” you’ll keep them hooked. Create a scenario in which something horrible will happen no matter what the protagonist does.

• Choices that create moral dilemma. Characters make a choice but they don’t really approve of what they’ll have to do as a result of that choice. The choice requires going against their personal beliefs. The “right” answer or course of action is clearly, absolutely in conflict with everything the protagonist knows is right and true. Doing a bad thing for a good cause. Connect the consequence to your character’s ideals.

• Choices that impact others.Your protagonist’s choice may betray, disappoint, or hurt someone he cares about, someone who trusts him. Think: Should she tell what she really saw and betray her friend or husband or child?

• A choice between what the character wants and what the character needs. Is money more important than a loving relationship? She loves the baby but has no way to provide for her. Adoption by good parents would insure a positive future for the baby.

Give your characters hard choices that torture their souls. Strong conflict will result.


More Tips:

How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?

How Important is Conflict in a Mystery Story?



  1. I had a life changing decision when it became apparent that for me to increase my income I needed to get a higher education. I quit my job and went to college and completed a BA degree in Economics. It was difficult because going from a good income to a student’s income, poverty that is, I had to get part time jobs and add to my GI bill income. I am glad that I had to do it only once.


  2. Larry, This is a perfect example of a choice between what the character wants and what he needs. You wanted immediate income but you needed an education to prepare for your life profession. Good example.


  3. Conflicts magnified in novels exercise readers in actually making tough choices in life. In that respect, writers may benefit readers. We all can benefit by mistakes or successes of others when we read a well-told story.


    • Carol Ann, Very perceptive comment.You are right. When readers can identify with the issues confronting novel characters and read about their process for solving those issues then we as writers have indeed done our job.


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