When creating character and story goals and conflict, there are generally two ways to go about it:
Protagonist and Antagonist wants the same thing (hero/heroine vs villain).
Variation: Protagonists want the same thing (hero vs heroine).
Protagonist and Antagonist want different things, but by one accomplishing his/her goal, the other does not (ie: in direct conflict and at risk).
Variation: Protagonists want different things (hero vs heroine).
I wish I could claim this tool, but I’m not that clever. I first heard this from Fiona Lowe, who had been inspired by Jennifer Crusie, and I’ve also seen Bob Mayer explain it, so I will pass this fantastic nugget on to you, and urge you to visit the sites of those authors for more information on the craft of writing. Again, there are so many different ways a writer can reach their goals, I’m merely recommending what I’ve found has worked for me in the past…
The Conflict Lock is a diagram that can help you create sustainable conflict for your characters, and draft out your plotline. Or, if you’re struggling halfway through the book, it’s a good way to find out whether you have enough conflict for a novel – or a short story. Or if your conflict is weak, it is a way to help figure out how to bolster it.
Simply put, a conflict lock shows you whether one character’s goal BLOCKS another’s.
So, how do we create the conflict lock?
Step one: Draw four squares
Step two: Label one row for Protagonist (Hero and/or Heroine), and one row Antagonist (Hero or Villain)
Step three: Label first column ‘Goal’ and second column ‘Conflict’.
Step four: Write in your characters’ objective in the GOAL column, and what is preventing your character from achieving that goal in the CONFLICT column.
If your protagonist’s conflict is born from your antagonist’s pursuit of his/her goal, and vice versa, then you have a CONFLICT LOCK.
Here is an example from my first romantic suspense novel, VIPER’S KISS:
My heroine, Maggie Kincaid, is mistakenly identified as the lethal ‘Viper’, and finds herself on the run, determined to clear her name. My hero, Luke Fletcher, believes – along with everyone else – that she is the Viper, and is in pursuit.
For Maggie to remain free, Luke doesn’t achieve his goal. If Luke apprehends Maggie, she doesn’t achieve her goal.
If you draw a line from my heroine’s goal to my hero’s conflict, you will see that what she is doing is the source of his conflict. If you draw a line from my hero’s goal to my heroine’s conflict, you will see that what he is doing is the source her conflict.
In essence – one cannot achieve his/her goal because of the direct actions of the other.
Good luck and get writing!