Conflict: Ratchet It Up By Moving Closer to Home

Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Today's guest post is by Jim Adam. It is the final installment of a series on storytelling and The Strengths of the Potter Series. If you've enjoyed this series, then you should check out Jim's book, Destiny Unfulfilled: A Critique of the Harry Potter Series.

Conflict, the engine that drives fiction, shows up at many levels in the Potter series, from the series-defining threat of Lord Voldemort, to book-defining threats like Sirius Black in Book 3, to daily annoyances such as Snape, Malfoy, and Colin Creevey.

One curious aspect of conflict is that it ratchets up the closer to home it gets.

Given confrontations of equal violence, an argument with a stranger affects us less deeply than an argument at work, which in turn affects us less than an argument at home.

Harry doesn’t have any problem getting into a fight with Malfoy, but confronting Hagrid about Norbert is another matter. Even more stressful for Harry is the temporary breakup between himself and Ron in Book 4. Similarly, Harry’s internal worries and uncertainties—about a Quidditch match, about his nascent relationship to Ginny, or about how he’ll survive one of the Tri-Wizard Tasks—also serve as potent sources of tension within the books.

When conflict arises in a close relationship, the options of eliminate, dominate, and avoid aren’t generally available. As a result, internal conflict is stressful in a different way (and is more stressful for some people) than external conflict. One reason why an abusive spouse lashes out is that it ends the discussion. Such people can’t handle the stress of interpersonal conflict, and so they get rid of it in the quickest way possible. Dictators display this same preference for an easy way out when they silence the opposition—even though this typically means killing, jailing, or expelling their fellow citizens; treating such people as The Enemy is ever so much easier than seeing them as friends who merely disagree on some issue or other.

Scenes without some form of conflict tend to be less interesting to readers, and the Potter series makes use of both external conflict (with Voldemort, Malfoy, Umbridge, and others) and internal conflict (with Ron, Hermione, and within Harry himself) to keep readers eagerly turning the pages.

By having a story to tell, and by telling that story in a way that suits her, rather than by fitting her story into a predefined category or genre, Rowling created a seven-book series that captivated readers worldwide. Her stories are dominated by characters, not premises or marvels, though the series is stuffed full with both. Her prose is rich with details and specifics, but isn’t overblown.

Active scenes dominate the narrative, showing us events taking place, while exposition and summary are used to keep the story moving forward with alacrity. By withholding select bits of information as long as possible, the series enflames the reader’s curiosity. By stretching tension, the series heightens reader involvement.

The Potter series has earned its popularity and critical acclaim through its originality, the fertile imagination and artistic integrity of its author, and its dedication to quality, as
evidenced in its many strengths.

But what really makes the Potter series work, what keeps readers coming back to it above all, is story. In the world of fiction, this is the bottom line, and this is ultimately
why the Potter series achieved such phenomenal success.


Looking for more help on the craft of fiction? Here's our best book on storytelling:

Image placeholder title

Find out more about: The Art & Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb

Also check out Story Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt. We also offer an online workshop with a published author. With our Advanced Novel Workshop, you'll get 200 pages critiqued.

Photo credit: Nicogenin

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 19

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an animal title poem.

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Presenting the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest featuring a collection of articles about how curiosity fuels writers, including the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites for Writers and a new interview with Chris Bohjalian.

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Popular lecturer and biographer Joshua M. Greene discusses the hardship of writing the biographies of Holocaust survivors, and the biography that convinced him to continue writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The May/June 2021 Issue, a Chance at Publication, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce that the May/June 2021 “Curiosity” issue is now live in the WD shop, there’s still time to have your From Our Reader’s response selected for publication in the July/August 2021 “Bravery” issue, and more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 18

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an ekphrastic poem.

Personal Essay Awards

Announcing the First Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the first annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

From Script

Movie Theatres Return While Indie Cinema and TV Turns to Horror and Beyond (From Script)

In this week’s round-up brought to us by, read movie reviews from cinephile Tom Stemple. Plus, exclusive interviews with Amazon’s Them creator and showrunner Little Marvin, horror film Jakob’s Wife director Travis Stevens, a history lesson with Dr. Rosanne Welch about trailblazer screenwriter Anita Loos, and much more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 17

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a waiting poem.


Your Story #112

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.