How To Use Conversation As A Source Of Conflict In Fiction

How To Use Conversation As A Source Of Conflict In Fiction


Conflict is essential in fiction writing. In this post, we look at how you can use conversation as a source of conflict in your books.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can leave deep gaping wounds that no amount of therapy can heal. As kind, considerate human beings we should choose our words wisely and with care. In fiction, our characters can say pretty much anything.

This Results In Conflict

We’re often told that fiction is conflict, but the impression created is that conflict must be violent. It does not have to be violent or physical. Conflict in fiction can be anything that complicates the protagonist’s task. You can replace the word conflict with challenge if it throws you off.

Dialogue is a great source of conflict. In a previous post we discussed 10 ways to introduce conflict in dialogue. In this post, we’ll expand on the conflict.

Your character can:

  1. Say things they don’t mean.
  2. Imply things.
  3. Be sarcastic.
  4. Be mean.
  5. Outright lie.
  6. Say what they think people want to hear.

This will not only show who the character really is, but it will also create situations that are uncomfortable and cause confusion. That can all be great fodder for conflict.

If you compare modern novels to older novels, one of the differences you’ll notice is the use of conversation. Modern novels contain more of it. That doesn’t mean that the stories lacked conflict, it just means that storytelling has changed and we’re showing more. This could be because of cinematic storytelling techniques that are influencing our writing.

That said, conversation is a great showing tool. You can tell me a character is mean and I’ll nod knowingly, or you can show me and I’ll end up huddled in a little ball next to the character.

TOP TIP: Learn to write better dialogue with The Dialogue Workbook

How To Use Conversation As A Source Of Conflict In Fiction

Here are some examples you can use. (Some can lead to violence and if that suits your story, go for it, but if you are telling a gentler story you may be able to add some drama.)

Use these prompts to practise your conflict and conversation skills:

  1. Argue: ‘I never said that.’
  2. Avoid: ‘I’d prefer it if…’
  3. Cajole: ‘It’ll be like a dream come true.’
  4. Chase: ‘Suspect heading down…’
  5. Defend: ‘I wasn’t even there.’
  6. Demand: ‘You better deliver the goods or else…’
  7. Fight: ‘Say that again…’
  8. Flee: ‘We have three minutes until…’
  9. Insist: ‘You simply must do it.’
  10. Interrupt: ‘Now just hang on…’
  11. Joke: ‘Knock, knock…’
  12. Lie: ‘You look fantastic.’
  13. Lose: ‘I have not seen your….’
  14. Manipulate: ‘You know you’ve always been my favourite.’
  15. Search: ‘Where else can we look?’
  16. Seduce: ‘I’ll light the candles.’
  17. Taunt: ‘You are such a loser.’
  18. Tease: ‘Oh look, it’s the Nose!’
  19. Tell a Secret: ‘Have you heard what…?’
  20. Threaten: ‘I’ll get you!’
  21. Wait: ‘Are you still there?’
  22. Wheedle: ‘Come one, you know you want to.’
  23. Whisper: ‘Do you want to…?’

The Last Word

I love dialogue. Before I read a book I’ll scan the pages to see how much of it the author uses. If you are less enthusiastic about it than I am, it’s still an important and valuable tool for writing. I would encourage you to add as much conversation as a source of conflict as you can.

TOP TIP: Learn to write better dialogue with The Dialogue Workbook

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice

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TOP TIP: Learn to write better dialogue with The Dialogue Workbook