Conflict happens when . . .
two people who are attempting to reach goals they desperately need
cross paths in such a way
that they block each other from achieving those goals.
These people are not necessarily enemies, they may even be friends, and they’re not necessarily pursuing the same goal, but their needs put them at cross-purposes.
The key words for conflict are desperately and block.
The biggest misconception about conflict is that it’s two people bashing each other. That’s too simplistic. A strong conflict is one person trying to reach a goal that she desperately needs, and another person trying to reach a goal that she desperately needs. Story happens when their paths cross and they can’t get out of each other’s way.
Jane’s trying to save the family farm because her ninety-year-old grandfather loves it and it would kill him to leave.
Sam’s determined to build low-cost housing for the homeless, and Jane’s grandfather’s farm is the only place that will work within the time frame he’s been given.
Jane doesn’t want anybody to be homeless, but she’s gonna save Grandpa no matter what.
Sam doesn’t want Grandpa to die, but he has a hundred families who desperately need safe housing.
They’re people who have goals they need desperately, they’re at cross-purposes, and they’re going to fight to the death. That’s conflict.
If you have a story opening that’s slow, chances are it’s because the conflict doesn’t start until Chapter Two.