Most writing courses teach the plot outline. Part of this outline is to identify the conflict. The classes go on to state that conflict can be man against man, man against nature, or man against himself. For me, when I think about a conflict of a man against man, I think of a good versus evil battle, especially in fantasy and paranormal. There are the good vampires (who drink animal blood) and the bad vampires (who prey on humans). To make it easy to identify, most show a different eye color. There are the good sorcerers and the bad ones. In YA, typically there are the teens and the adults. Classes will teach that the two have different goals and motivations. These differences cause conflict that drives the novel.
I’m currently reading a novel by the author duo pen named “Ilona Andrews.” I’m only four books into their Kate Daniels series. What struck me about this series is that the major conflict is typically good versus evil. But, there is a minor conflict that enhances the dynamics of the plot. It comes between her and the leader of a pack of shape shifters. Throughout most of the books, she judges his reactions to the point of “knowing” his motivations. He’s a “jerk” in her eyes and therefore his motivations have selfish value. She also will predict what he will do and for what reasons. What I love is that while she leads the reader in her viewpoint on the matter, it slowly becomes evident that the man is probably more complex than what she is judging. In other words, she doesn’t know him as well as she thinks she does. She sometimes judges him rashly and therefore discounts his actions without seeing their true meaning. Of course, by book 4 she is starting to catch on, but is still driven by emotions that neglect to see the “true” picture.
This is so true to real life. I think the mistake authors sometimes make is combining the information we know about all characters with the informations/perceptions our main characters should know. Think about it. When was the last time you accurately predicted what someone will do/say? Sure, I can get pretty good at guessing, but it is that, a guess. People surprise me. They constantly have me redefining their character because I can’t hear what’s in their head and I don’t have their life experience to measure their motivations.
I think we miss out on a lot of possibilities if we neglect this conflict. Imagine, two people fighting for a common goal (neither good nor bad) but conflicting due to methods and motivations. That simple conflict opens the novel up to so much more possibilities. Protagonists shouldn’t be able to manipulate everyone. They should stumble over their own mouth. They should make rash judgments and discover they were wrong. Because they shouldn’t know the world as well as the author does. That’s when the fun can happen.