Drama and Conflict at the PNWA Summer Writers Conference

English teacher three narrative arcs conflict and resolution literary free lesson plan

Image: iClipart

No, I wasn’t standing in line at Starbucks, fighting with someone over a latte. This was yet another class at the PNWA Summer Writers Conference. I’d like to thank Emily for her detailed notes from this class, taught by Jason Black. Here are her notes from the conference class entitled “Drama and Conflict”:


Drama And Conflict 

Conflict  = Opposition

  • Two or more forces acting against each other. It does not need to be physical (like fighting). Ex: Political campaign where neither candidate actually comes into contact with the other.
  • Goals that cannot be mutually satisfied. Ex: both politicians want to win, but that’s not how it works.
  • Similar goals with incompatible strategies. Ex: Husband and wife want happy relationship, but husband wants to stick with status quo and wife wants kids.
  • IMPORTANT: There should not be an obvious win-win solution

Categories of Conflict

  • Character vs. Character. Ex: the politicians running against each other.
  • Character vs. Self. This includes multiple incompatible goals or goals vs. character flaws.
  • Character vs. External force. Man vs. Nature or Character vs. Social structure

Developing Conflicts

  • Conflict arcs. It builds to the crisis. You can’t introduce the conflict and then have the crisis. Instead, the conflict needs to progress slowly toward the crisis.
  • Conflict and Obstacles.  An obstacle is the way the conflict manifests in the story.
  • Conflict and Scenes.  Each scene needs conflict. Scenes without conflict are boring. If the scene has no conflict, consider cutting it.
  • Conflict Combinations

What is Drama? 

Drama stems from difficult choices where the possible outcomes are uncertain.

Drama is not like prose or a plot twist that you can add if you need to. It’s a feeling the reader has, that you invoke when they read conflict. Have conflict and obstacles and there should be drama.

What Kills the Conflict and Drama?

  • Living on easy street. The author threatens conflict but there are obvious choices. This is often done through info dumps.
  • Drifting through life – character has no goals. Every character needs goals. Otherwise there are no stakes
  • Lack of complications – make it too easy for characters to win. You make it easy to solve their problems.
  • Predictable outcomes – when the reader can see how it’s going to end.
  • Confusion – when the reader doesn’t understand what’s happening so they don’t think about what might happen later.
  • Low or no stakes conflict
  • Mundane after-math of dramatic decisions (characters decide to build a home together, don’t show them going through the boring process of buying a house).


Drama comes from serious conflicts with uncertain outcomes brought to a crisis by forcing characters to make hard choices and take hard actions.


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