Conflict drives a story. This is what we’re told. A character wants something, and something else rises to stop them. Honestly, it can get a little ridiculous when antagonists suddenly appear to prevent a hero from achieving something relatively unimportant like, I don’t know… groceries.
Like most writing advice, the truth is more complicated than that. If we’re being 100% straightforward, who your story has to do is engage and entertain your audience… that’s all. You don’t need conflict to do that if your audience isn’t engaged or entertained by conflict, it just so happens that conflict will do it for like, the majority. Of people.
So, what’s really important in creating entertainment and what role does conflict actually serve? You have to be willing to open your mind a bit to the ideas, because sometimes what really entertains can fall outside the sort of thing you find in the mainstream. Some people are entertained by home videos of people hurting themselves. Cue Jackass.
Schadenfreude is enough of a thing that America’s Funniest Home Videos and Jackass have an audience. Political punditry has an audience too. One of the first things you need to engage is subject matter that falls in someone’s interests. An easy way to start with this is to figure something that interests YOU.
You are potentially a member of your audience. It can be a good place to start.
A weird thing you can try to pull is of course to write on something topical or relevant. Current events or controversies can be subject matter that grabs an audience. It can be seen as “low” or even “pandering” writing to a fad or to rip stories from the headlines — but if it didn’t work, people wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be successful. Dull surprise.
It isn’t strictly necessary to create conflict for your story. So, what kind of conflict benefits your story? You want to include things that enhance and improve your story. Conflict for its own sake is tedious, like drama for its own sake or… anything that doesn’t really contribute or improve your story.
It’s worth looking at the core of your story to figure out what conflict will make it better. You should be able to explain the central points of your story in broad strokes, and add detail in successive iterations like reverse-peeling an onion really slowly. Some conflicts can be doubled and tripled up on in order to make them more relevant.
Ultimately you want to write with both eyes open — don’t add elements to your story arbitrarily. Everything you put in your story is a reflection of you: who you are and what you know. It’s a deliberate act of creation whether you’re fully aware of all your content or if you just coast through it. It’s better to be conscious of your content.
Under some circumstances, conflict for its own sake might be acceptable but you need to decide that when you write it. Don’t be lazy about it, and don’t defend your own lazy writing. Own your conflict. Own your writing.