Mistake 23: Not Escalating the Conflict

from 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer from The Writer’s Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: Not only must every scene in a story have conflict, but the level of conflict must continue to escalate throughout
the course of the story. Too often, writers open with a great hook to a story that only goes downhill. To keep the reader engaged, the stakes for the protagonist and antagonist must rise, leading up to the final conflict in the climactic scene.

Writers often get lost in backstory, flashbacks and memories, and dialogue, leading to an overall loss of conflict—and reader interest—as they get further into the story.

The solution: Make things grow more difficult for both the protagonist and the antagonist. Many writers forget to up the stakes for the antagonist by focusing too much on the protagonist. The protagonist and antagonist are locked in conflict, and the stakes must grow more important to both of them as the story progresses. Ask yourself what happens if each of them loses. What if your protagonist fails? What if your antagonist fails? As the book goes on, they both become more invested in what they are doing, so that failure becomes more and more unacceptable.

Another way to escalate conflict is to make what seems like a good thing turn out to be a bad thing and vice versa. This is much like real life. We’ve all had this happen to us. You win the lottery. Good thing, right? So you buy a sports car. Then you crash it and end up in a hospital. Bad thing, right? But then you meet this doctor. Marry him/her. Good thing, right? But then he/she is a serial killer. Bad thing, right? And so on.

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