Conflict comes in many different forms and it doesn’t have to be tragic to be effective. When discussing conflict, we tend to over emphasize the dramatic like a death in the family or the end of the world. But the truth is your story doesn’t need car chases or gun fights to be interesting and exciting. Nobody needs to discover they have cancer or only twelve months to live. No family members need to die. Your hero doesn’t have to punch out a wannabe rapist at the bar to save his girlfriend.
Conflict is integral to a story, but we sometimes assume conflict always means drama. Conflict can just as easily be two best friends growing apart when they go to college, how this separation affects them and how they deal with this new tension as they explore their adult selves is a perfectly valid form of conflict. The conflict at the heart of Sophie Kinsella’s fantastically hilarious Can You Keep A Secret? is a character struggling with their fear of rejection if they tell the truth, if they can’t pretend everything is just fine. When Emma tells all her secrets in a fit of tipsy panic to a stranger on the plane, only to later discover he’s the CEO of her company, she starts a journey that makes her question whether or not she really is happy and a lesson in the importance of honesty with the people she cares about most. The brilliant part of Emma’s journey is that it extends well beyond her new love interest or her falling in love, it affects her entire life from her best friend Lissy, to her work friends, to the secrets of her own unhappiness that she’s been keeping from her family.
The truth is while falling in love can be very exciting and there is more than enough potential conflict there to satisfy a novel, it has also been very well documented. If your having trouble, it might be time to set aside conflict with the main characters and start thinking about subplots with natural conflict between the main characters and their friends. This may or may not have anything to do with the main characters’ potential relationship, they may involve personal issues that they can help each other through or become a source of comfort for.
Trauma just for drama is never the way to go. Trauma needs to be meaningful to the narrative, in how it affects the characters and the plot. Trauma that comes from nowhere is bad, trauma that is build up slowly throughout the story has a chance at being effective.
Sorry it took so long to get back to you on this, life has us a little swamped.