How Conflict Makes Fiction Pleasurable

Conflict, whether physical or psychological, is the lifeblood of fiction, because it induces tension in readers and makes the reading process pleasurable. And what makes tension enjoyable? Not the tension itself, I suspect, but the anticipation of an explosive release (think climax). As tension builds, readers get increasingly uneasy, yet they keep going because they have come to expect that the writer will give them a finale in each scene that releases the tension in a pleasurable surge. Writers who are adept at the gradual buildup and climactic release of tension gain huge followings.

Providing the delicious cycle of tension build-up and release is a two-step process: (1) present a character with whom readers will sympathize and identify, (2) put the character in conflict situations where it is uncertain who will prevail.  But there are hazards along the conflict corridor. Continue the tension-inducing conflict too long, and readers will find it unpleasant. They are accustomed to little spikes of tension with mini-releases along the road to the great, culminating climax and will brook few lapses. They expect a novel to incorporate conflict, and thus induce tension, in every scene and to resolve the conflict sufficiently to release the tension at the conclusion of the scene only to escalate it further in the next scene. These periodic buildups and releases, with the promise of an ultimate gigantic climax, make a novel satisfying. Fail to provide the little jolts of tension build-up and release from scene to scene, or end your story without the anticipated major climax, and readers will badmouth the book all the way to the remainder rack. 

Gaylon Greer

Working with traveling carnivals and itinerant farm labor gangs during his teen and early adult years took Gaylon Greer up, down, and across the United States and introduced him to a plethora of colorful individuals who serve as models for his fictional characters. A return to school in pursuit of a high school diploma while serving in the Air Force led to three university degrees, including a Ph.D. in economics, and a stint as a university professor. After publishing several books on real estate and personal financial planning, as well as lecturing on these subjects to nationwide audiences, he shifted his energy to writing fiction. Gaylon lives near Austin, Texas.

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  1. Thanks for another awesome guest post today Gaylon, I truly enjoy reading about your thoughts and opiniions.

    ilookfamous at yahoo dot com

  2. II really enjoyed learning more about you. It sounds as though you had a fascinating youth. I think your comments are very interesting.

    1. Thanks. One never believes one's life is interesting when one is living it--Boooring! Looking back, two aspects of my youth strike me. First, that it was so atypical (for me, it was a matter of getting by), and second, that I survived it.

  3. I enjoyed the guest post, thank you.

  4. Interesting and instructive approach to conflict!


  5. A great post thank you. It is the build up, the anticipation, that makes you turn the page.


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