Assumption is Not Sustainable Conflict

I've been in the writing world for over five years now and I've known for a long time that if characters can have a good, honest talk and work out their troubles, then the plot conflict isn't strong enough.

But I hadn't thought of this in the form of assumptions until a reader made a comment about a book and how she enjoyed that the characters didn't just assume things about each other.

A character's goal has to be impeded by more than her thinking the other character (antagonist/hero) wouldn't like the goal. The internal conflict should be more than her thinking the other character will disapprove or hate her.

I adore internal conflicts but they have to have a concrete external conflict to make them believable. If the conflict isn't believable, or worse, could be cleared with an honest conversation, then this hampers the tension of the story in a big way.

The reader might not care about turning the pages to find out what happens.

I know for a fact that one of my manuscripts relies too heavily on assumption as the basis of conflict. That's something I need to change.

Have your characters assumed too much? Do you like it in books when there's a misunderstanding or would you rather there be definite stakes/goals driving a wedge between characters?


Unknown said…
Ah, this is good stuff--not something I've really thought about before. But you're so right--if the whole conflict hinges on a misunderstanding or assumption, then there's really not a whole lot of tension on my part. I definitely like it when characters have opposing goals, rising stakes and even competing values. That makes it so much more interesting. :)
Jaime Wright said…
Never. Thought. of. that. Ever. WOW!! I'm going to chew on this today ...and then rewrite my entire WIP. Again! :)
Ramona Richards said something once about accepting a book. She said if the two MCs could clear things up in a ten minute conversation, she didn't want it.

I took that piece of advice and made sure that my characters can't just misunderstand, although as humans we do that often in conversations, emails and texts, but the BIG plot, the BIG deal has to be so much more. Excellent post!!!
Lindsay Harrel said…
Wow, I've never thought of it in terms like this before, but you're so right. Those type of stories make me crazy because I think, "Why don't they just talk it through?" It can be an element of the conflict, but not the whole thing. Good stuff, Jessica!
Loree Huebner said…
I do like the internal mini dramas within the drama, but they must be clearly part of the big picture.

I want to say that misunderstandings and assumptions make the characters avoid talking about it...not enough tension...I don't know if I explained that right. There must be more meat to the story.

You got me thinking on this, Jess.
Terri Tiffany said…
Well you certainly made me think this morning. And that is good!
Gabrielle Meyer said…
I hate misunderstandings in books (and real life!). I'd much rather the conflict be something they have to overcome.
Great reminder. I recently had to overhaul my hero's agenda and create a deeper conflict for him. He's really wrestling now, poor guy! LOL!
Oh, cool! I'm glad the post resonated. I've been thinking about it a lot with my WIP. Love your thoughts, ladies!
Brandi Boddie said…
I don't mind misunderstandings so long as they are tied to greater internal/external conflict, such as what you explained. It's such a letdown to read stories where the plot is centered on a flimsy misinterpretation or withholding of information. Unless you're writing a comedy :-)
Brandi Boddie said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
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Traci Kenworth said…
Very true and something I hope I've worked on in my own writing.
Karen Lange said…
Great food for thought! I need to check out the WIP with this in mind. Thank you! :)
Beth K. Vogt said…
Good stuff, Jessica.
If the conflict between the two characters is too simple (If I'm thinking "Come on, already!") then I'm frustrated as I read I book. This is why it's so important to have layers to your characters, where the whys and why nots that push and pull the hero and heroine apart (or together). You've got to reveal this kind of stuff with every turn of the page.
Nancy said…
This is quite interesting. I do not like the misunderstanding type of conflict. A few times, I just want to sit the characters down and say, "Now talk. Stop being so stubborn."
Any conflict, I like it to be a real problem. Perhaps someone can't do something because of a physical condition.
LOL Brandie, true!

Thanks Traci! I'm working on it too. :-)

YOu're welcome, Karen!
Exactly, Beth! I think you could write a post on it. ;-)

Nancy, good point. That would be a seemingly insurmountable conflict.
This is excellent! How many times do we worry, but it has no basis in fact?

If a character is just anticipating a problem, the tension is diluted. If someone is actually coming against them, it's a whole different story.

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