There is one thing that I tended to shy away from, when I started writing. And I suspect that I’m not the only one. In doing so, I deprived myself of a wonderfully creative instrument to advance the plot as well as the development of my characters: CONFLICT!!!
Conflict is great! Conflict is cleansing! And Conflict is my friend! — Repeat three times out loud.
Now let’s look at a few points to keep in mind before you pit your characters against each other.
Conflict has to be plausible
The situation has to arise naturally out of the current plot scene as well as the personality traits of your characters. Don’t force it. Think of a situation that would bring out the difference of opinions. Juxtapose two different views of a problem. A conflict exerts a powerful influence on your readers if they can understand the motivation and logic of both opponents. Good against bad is the classical conflict, but unless the good has something bad and the bad also some part that is good, it lacks depth. Don’t fall into stereotypes. When writing conflicts, try to see the merits of both sides and argue convincingly.
Use conflict as a tipping point
The beauty of a nice clash of opinions is that it provides a plausible reason for irrational or unforeseen behavior. Someone could snap and do something unexpected. Spiking emotions can drive someone to say something which had better remained unsaid. The possibilities are endless. A nice conflict is like a crossroad that appears in the plot. You can have the story take an unexpected turn and introduce a twist.
Conflicts are pillars of story arches
Usually, there is some buildup. The energy gathers, the air becomes charged, and then the conflict is the epitome of all that has happened before. But once the two hotheads have had it out, it still isn’t over. Now comes the release, the second half of the arch. A conflict is something which asks for resolution. The trio of buildup, conflict, and resolution is a great device which can energize and drive a story.
Without conflict there is no character evolution
People read stories because the identify with their characters. That’s why effort invested into character development is effort well spent. Do you sometimes have the feeling that maybe one of your characters is a bit flat and uncompelling? Consider a conflict to lend it some depth.
Find the weak spot of your character and make it the one that drives him/her/it into situations which ultimately trigger a conflict. You can have an inner conflict of your hero: should he/she/it do this or do that? But don’t miss out on the raw energy that can build up between two different characters. Both of them have the chance of coming out of this a different person. And that’s exactly what character development does.