Weak Story Conflict and Low Stakes Will Ruin a Story

Julia Amante
5 min readFeb 22, 2021
Photo by Nate Neelson on Unsplash

How do we know when the conflict is strong or important enough to carry the story from beginning to end?

Yes, I am going to talk about the Significant Story Question again because if it is not guiding your story, it will lead to a weakened story. Your story must be about something. It must tell the reader what it’s like to be something, do something, believe something, experience something, etc.

I’m currently reading a novel that I’ve had sitting on my bookshelf for a long time, it was published in 2005 about a lethal supervirus that secret government agents fear will be released onto the public. Considering that I’m writing this while we are still battling the Corona Virus, it caught my attention, so I pulled off my shelf to read.

The stakes of this story are huge. The character is battling an evil guy from another country that the reader hears about but does not meet. We only know that her job is to save people from a biological attack. If she fails, people get hurt. This is an important conflict that will sustain the interest of the reader for the length of the novel.

The Significant Story Question is: Can an emotionally damaged agent solve the case and protect the public from a madman and learn to trust in love again? This is strong enough for a 300-page book.

But the author also needs to deepen the conflict. If the character fails, not only do people die which is bad, but because she trusted in the hero and in herself the consequences of failure are that she will prove to herself that she is unworthy.

Characters must risk something that matters to them. Their jobs, their heart, their homes and lives even. The reader must believe that if the character fails, everything that matters to him will be lost.

If writers can convince readers of this, they will follow the story until the end. The risk and the consequences must be real.

This does not mean that the fate of thousands of people have to be at stake like in the book I’m reading. Characters care about different things. It might be that characters are involved in a divorce and what they both care about are their children. It could be that the character doesn’t want to lose an important client or job.

Julia Amante

Women’s Fiction author, Speaker, and Writing Mentor. Connect with Julia multiple ways with this link: https://linktr.ee/juliaamante Join her free JA Newsletter