While we usually want to avoid conflict in real life, in fiction, it is what drives the characters and story forward toward the climactic scene.

When I do workshops, the first thing we do is get the author to say the core idea of his/her book in one sentence. That can take an entire in a workshop of four people. It’s not easy. It’s not 100% necessary but I’ve found for most authors, they don’t have a tight focus on what they’re writing. They had one to start with, but when they wade into the long journey that a novel is, they get lost. That idea is their compass.

After we get that idea written down, the next thing is to workshop the conflict box. To get the core conflict of the story between the protagonist and antagonist. Right away, there’s always at least one person who has a problem even identifying those characters, particularly the antagonist.

The conflict box is a way of putting this down in a way where we can see it. Remember: what’s in your head doesn’t matter. Only what we put down. So here is conflict: