I think sometimes in our writing, we're scared of conflict. You've probably been there. You KNOW you're supposed to torture them, to dangle what they want in front of them and then snatch it away (while going 'mwahahahahaha!'), but sometimes it's hard! Sometimes you just don't want to. When that happens, well, there's really nothing to do but get over it. It's what makes good fiction. ;)
But sometimes I think we shy away from adding more layers of conflict because we don't want to overcomplicate. We want people to think our stories are realistic, and who would believe it if we had TOO many conflicts for our characters?
Well, everybody, actually.
Novels that people like to read (um, for fun) are usually not just 'a day in the life' of someone. Ivan Denisovich comes to mind. Slow, slow read. Very literary and I actually liked it, but that's not 'beach reading' fiction, which I think is more what most of us are going for. Popular fiction. Not study-it-in-class fiction. If the second is your goal, more power to you. But for most of us, our novel is going to take place at a crossroads in someone's life. Something weird has happened, something crazy has happened, they WISH something weird or crazy would happen...something is going to change. It's what's causing our inciting incident and pushing our story forward.
And in real life, whenever ONE thing goes crazy, several things usually do.
You might think that your heroine losing her job is a lot of conflict. And it is. But if you REALLY want to amp up that conflict, add more. How is her family doing during this week she loses her job? Is someone sick? Does someone break an ankle or something? You're adding more conflict. Believable for most of us in everyday life? Maybe not. Believable for anyone who has had a TRULY crazy week ever? Yes. Most definitely.
So our poor heroine (moment of pity for her...) lost her job and her grandma broke her ankle. Rough week, right? In real life, would it always end there? No. Her dishwasher is also going to break that week. Her dog is going to run away (thankfully, he comes back, because though I write suspense and may kill of people in my writing, the dog is ALWAYS okay.). Then the dog is going to chew up her favorite pair of shoes. Our heroine will toss them into the trash and take her trash to the curb only to discover that the trash men are already half a mile past her house and she has to keep her stinky trash for another week....
See how real life should be sometimes for our characters? Maybe no one will believe it if you give your character every HUGE issue that has ever existed to work through all in the course of your book. But you can layer big problems with little ones and pretty soon even something like dropping one of her favorite coffee mugs and breaking it is going to lead your character to a huge emotional crisis.
So are you good at conflict in your stories? Can you add in any more layers?
And if you're having one of those crazy weeks, sorry about that. But write it down--it could come in handy for a book one day. ;)
Sarah (Whose week has not been NEARLY as crazy as the made-up heroine in this post, although her oldest son has been sick, she's a million years behind on laundry, and her kitchen looks like someone should declare it a natural disaster zone...)