How to Harness the Power of Quiet Conflict by Angela Ackerman
We know that smaller conflicts layered together can sometimes have the biggest impact: misplaced car keys can cause a character to be late picking a child up from preschool, which leads to a stern warning from the teacher, judgement from other parents, and possibly even a fine. Now the character is in a bad mood and as she turns into the driveway, she misses seeing the cyclist on the sidewalk, and just like that, a whole new set of problems start.
Subtle conflict can also play a big role in the story. History is filled with powerful moments of quiet resistance—ordinary people who spied during a war, hid Jewish people from the Nazis, or sewed hidden messages into clothing to draw attention to unfair working conditions in second-and third-world countries.
When you need conflict that’s subdued yet satisfying, give these a try:
Subversion. Have a character use persuasion or manipulation to "turn" people inside a rival or enemy’s inner circle.
Collusion. A character pursuing a goal that will disrupt the status quo and make enemies of powerful people—what can be better than that? Adding someone else who is like-minded, of course. Two characters, maybe even rivals, joining forces to conspire against an influential person or agency is the ultimate rebellion.
Interference. Quiet conflict can always come in the form of disruptions and obstructions, such as an unforeseen delay, bureaucracy slowing things down, losing a resource, an opponent purposefully passing along wrong information, or someone causing small problems to hinder the character's agenda.
Informing. No one likes having their private matters made public—often because it causes a loss of leverage. This is why information being leaked to the character's competitor or enemy can be so detrimental. Not only could this sabotage a character’s goals, having an informant in their camp will cause them to view everyone around them with suspicion, creating deeply embedded trust issues.
Influencing. Influencers, by nature, win trust and favor and use their position to persuade others. A benevolent influencer can help a character make better decisions, but a malevolent one could use their resources to derail the character’s confidence, make them dependent, and lead them to choices and actions that will weaken them in the long run.
Intimidation. This is the big bad brother of influencing—the threat of violence or unpleasant consequences being used to pressure a character into making certain decisions. Intimidation can come in the form of a physical attack, someone's unwanted presence, or even a meaningful look. It can be mental, too, especially if the person doing the intimidating has information that can be leveraged if their target doesn’t fall in line.
Have you ever
used these in your story? Let me know in the comments!
If you need more ideas for story conflict, check out The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles (Volume 1 & Volume 2).
Together they explore 225 conflict scenarios that generate power struggles, relationship friction, danger, moral dilemmas, ticking clocks, failures & mistakes, and much more.
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. Available in ten languages, her guides are sourced by universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction.
From the IMDB: A young boy learns that a superhero who was thought to have gone missing after an epic battle twenty years ago may in fact still be around.
This is an original superhero film starring a now 76 year-old Sylvester Stallone.
It’s done well, but nothing I don’t think any of us couldn't have written.
Then, there is a twist near the end. Not quite Donnie Darko level, but it really elevates the film.
Muse – Will of the People
Every song on this British band’s album is catchy. And all over the map – pop to rock to metal. Very eclectic. But totally Muse.
It’s definitely a covid lockdown and restrictions protest album. Song titles include Compliance and We Are F*ing F*ed.
One of the best songs will surprise you – Verona.
Dynazty – Final Advent
This Swedish rock band knows how to write the hits. On par with 80’s Def Leppard.
Delayed for months, it’s well worth the wait. Every song is catchy and a potential hit.
Best song – Yours. It is epic!
The Rings of Power
The series takes place during the second age, giving it centuries to work with.
You get a young Galadriel and Elrond and it really fleshes out their backgrounds.
Plus, it’s of the same quality as the LOTR and Hobbit movies. The special effects, pacing, and everything – just great.