Creating Conflict: A Necessary Ingredient in Mysteries

All fiction has some non _____ in it (fill in the blank). No, not nonsense, non-sequiturs or non-profits (although some of these nons may show-up in fictional works). What do most works of fiction contain that starts with “non”? I’ll make it easy for you: just about all fiction contains at least a few non-fiction elements (sci-fi and fantasy possibly excluded).

My fiction is no exception, especially when it comes to the setting. I like inserting my characters into real places. Locations I’ve visited; where I feel comfortable and right at home. Peaceful, uneventful places. Throw in my heroine and it’s not so serene anymore. And it shouldn’t be. Would you read a mystery without action and conflict? I didn’t think so.

Here’s how my real life might go: I walk into a restaurant, enjoy a delicious meal on the patio, and watch a gentle breeze ruffle nearby palm trees.

Then I think: What would happen if my heroine, Corrie Locke, popped into a similar place? What would she eat? Where would she sit? Who’s she with? Would she have a chance to finish her meal? Of course not.

She’d sit with friends, toward the back…but she wouldn’t eat. She’d be starving, but a little something would get in the way of Corrie and her meal. That little something is called conflict. Conflict is what makes a mystery tale suspenseful.

Nail-biting, tension rousing conflict is a must. How to create it? Just insert obstacles between the hero/ine and their goal. For instance:

– Corrie runs to her car to chase after a villain. Can she? Nope. The car has a flat tire. Now what? (The flat tire is the obstacle);
– Corrie and Michael break into an office and are snooping around when the janitor sticks his key in the lock. Did I mention that hiding places were scarce? (MURDER GONE MISSING);
– Corrie wrangles with a difficult movie star in order to find clues leading to a killer. Personality clashes occur, which also create conflict. (MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING).

I let the scene just unfold in my first draft. Then I go back and ask: how can I rewrite this to make matters more difficult for Corrie? I’ll use the setting, other characters, even her car to create conflict. By overcoming obstacles in fiction, our characters grow. Hopefully, we do the same for ourselves in real life.

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