When is conflict good? The answer in this case is when writing a novel.
Next to writing my favourite hobby is people watching. Today I watched an elderly couple while they were doing some shopping. The gentleman was mild and reserved. He wanted to go and visit a certain shop and gently voiced this to the woman. She was not so quiet and not so reserved. She wanted him to stay with her and do what she was doing. The entire crowd of people around the couple were quickly made aware of her wishes as she voiced them quite loudly. The couple moved on to the next shop the woman wanted to visit and I sat there and created their life story in my head.
They got married 60 some odd years ago when they were young. It was back in the day when people dated, fell in love and got married. They did not live together first and did not spend huge amounts of time alone. They then found themselves married and happy at first. Not too long after they were married they found out they were expecting their first child. Things were joyous in the early days but then by the time their fourth child arrived the woman grew tired and lonely. The man worked overtime to pay for his growing family and was rarely home. Tensions mounted. She had always dreamed of being a singer and this was far from the life she had imagined. He was always content to work with his hands and couldn’t imagine life any different. The arguments started as the kids were getting older and the couple no longer had much spark left in the marriage. Divorce was not an option for people from their generation besides they could not do that sort of thing to the children. The kids left home. He retired. They were now forced to spend every day together. She grew angrier as he grew humbler to keep the peace. Despite it all they couldn’t imagine life without each other after being together for so long. Their life story as I imagined it is filled with conflict. It is interesting, it makes me feel for them.
In my eyes as a couple these two were polar opposites. In my novels I try to create the same level of difference between my protagonist and antagonist. Sometimes this is easy such as when a young naive girl goes against a strong societal opinion. Sometimes it is hard such as when the protagonist is struggling with herself.
Every novel needs conflict whether it comes in the form of person vs person, person vs nature, person vs society or person vs self or there is no story. Layers (as long as there are not too many) of conflict can help build the story to the climax. Then as the falling action occurs the resolutions will take place.
I have a stale work in progress at the moment and think that it might just need a little bit more conflict weaving into it.