Stories are not difficult. We all tell stories to each other every day. We tell Dad about the catch we made that won the game. We tell our best friend something funny that happened at school.

Telling stories is easy. Writing them down takes a little more effort, but not much. We all know that stories need to have a main character – a person, animal or alien robot that is the “good guy” of the story. We also know that we need a setting – a time and place where the story happens. We may even know that there should be some action and maybe even some dialogue – conversation.

But how many of you know what the secret ingredient is that keeps our stories from being B-O-R-I-N-G? In order to be interesting, every story needs a problem to solve. As soon as you give your main character a problem, you begin to have an interesting story, but to make it really exciting, you need to have conflict. Conflict is when someone or something gets in the way of solving the problem.

The most popular conflicts are person versus person, an example of which would be where your main character has to outwit a school bully. But sometimes your character may actually have an internal conflict (person versus himself). An example might be that he is afraid of water, but needs to wade into a creek to save his friend. Finally, there is the conflict of person versus nature.

In this case, your main character may be trying to escape from a bear or outrun a flash flood.

Conflict is the secret ingredient that makes a story stupendous, that keeps your reader turning pages. And the more times your main character fails to solve his problem the better. Add different kinds of conflicts and obstacles to keep your reader on the edge of her seat.

However, before you write even the first word, you must know exactly how the main character will solve the problem and the problem must be solved by the main character. Don’t write yourself into a corner, and don’t have someone (or something) enter at the last minute to save the day.

For Practice

Try writing a story using one or more of the following conflicts:

  1. A student new to the school wants to make new friends and to fit in, but the other kids won’t play with him unless he steals the janitor’s favorite baseball cap.
  2. Your character is a robot who dreams of exploring new planets in outer space, but his owner has programmed him only to pick up trash in the park.
  3. Your character is a witch who is trying to graduate from magic school, but every time she does a spell, it seems to do just the opposite of she wants it to do.
  4. Your character is a kitten, who wanders outside one day. She was raised by a dog, and so she thinks she is a dog, too. She wants to be someone’s “best friend,” walking on a leash, fetching balls, and scaring off bullies. But all the neighborhood dogs know she really is just a cat.
  5. Your character is afraid of fire and his best friend is an old man who lives very simply in a cabin in the woods– with no radio, television or telephone. Suddenly, lightning causes a bad wild fire that is spreading towards the old man’s house.