Once upon a time, there was a fair maiden who hoped to meet a prince. And she did. And they moved into the castle and lived happily ever after. The End.
That’s not how you recall the story, is it? Let’s try a more modern version:
Once upon a recent time, there was an ambitious young woman who hoped to climb the corporate ladder. And she did, getting promotion after deserved promotion until she moved into the corner office and ran the company. The End.
I hear you… totally unrealistic! We’re storytelling here, so just stick with me for one more…
Once upon a time, a slightly overweight and out-of-shape woman decided to challenge herself to get fit by completing a Tough Mudder. And she finished the race and is now a size smaller. The End.
Oddly unsatisfying stories, aren’t they?
(Actually, that second one doesn’t sound too bad. If you’ve ever been granted promotion after deserved promotion, including some you’ve never asked for, good for you, girl. Own your awesomeness!)
Here’s the thing… you can’t have a great story without conflict. The specifics of that conflict are what make our stories interesting, relatable, and entertaining.
Hate drama? Sorry, you can’t have a dramatic arc without it.
That doesn’t make you a drama queen. Drama queens need drama to survive, often creating conflict where none exists.
Learn to ride the plot twists and turns and respond to rather than avoid the conflict.
How we respond to conflict is how we overcome it. Anticipate it as part of your plot and draw upon the strength of your central character (that’s you!) and your Cast of Supporting Characters to help you through.
Wherever your conflict lies – the onerous boss who doesn’t see your value, the co-worker who tries to pass off your ideas as his own, your irritating commute on mass transit – these are the details that make your story genuinely yours!
Conflict is one of The Unlikelies, those story elements we don’t like and think are unlikely to help us. And, yet, they are necessary to create the narrative arc of a GREAT story.
Who wants to root for a heroine who has it easy? Bring on the tough stuff – you’re up to the task!
One of my favorite writers, Nora Ephron (of When Harry Met Sally “I’ll have what she’s having” fame), declared, “The tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.”
Consider your conflict – and how you persevere and ultimately succeed despite it – as what makes your story uniquely yours and worthy of sharing with appreciative audiences.
And then live happily ever after.
Got a GREAT conflict? We love conflict! Email us your work conflict for the chance to be featured in an upcoming blog post. (Yes, you can be anonymous – we don’t want to cause more conflict than you want!)
Valerie Gordon, the founder of career and communications strategy firm, The Storytelling Strategist, (formerly Commander-in-She) is a former award-winning television producer, author, and corporate trainer. She likes drama but only on the stage and screen.