Many times writers have trouble understanding the place of conflict in stories for young children. Either the stories will be devoid of conflict. Or they will be wondrous stories of fighting and near-death experiences. In magazine fiction, the place of conflict tends to land somewhere between these two extremes.

In story terms, conflict occurs when something must be overcome in order to move from our perceived goal to achieving that goal. Our main character’s goal could be want-based (getting a new bike) or need based (finding a way out of a trap.) The difficulty standing in his way tends to increase as the age of the main character increases. In a very young character, the child may only need to do some problem-solving to achieve the goal. For example, in “Zindy Lou and the Dark Place” by Judy Cox (published in Spider) the main character is frightened of the dark bathroom at school. She tries a variety of methods to solve her problem and finally hits on one that works. There is no bad guy, no adult to the rescue, no friends or siblings making fun of her fear––finding a way of coping with the fear is the sole conflict. However, for older readers conflict usually increases. In “Prayers and Other Nonsense” by Kathleen Ahrens (published in Skipping Stones), the main character must talk her mother into leaving their home before a storm destroys it. The need is greater and the conflict is more interpersonal.

For more information on developing conflict in your story, including a story structure template you can use for any fiction manuscript, listen to the full episode.

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