Interesting characters are not enough to keep a reader’s attention in a short story. Even the most interesting characters must deal with internal conflicts, encounter problems, or struggle against opposing forces. Conflict is integral to the short story. Without it, a story has no fuel, nothing to propel it forward, and no reason for readers to keep turning the pages.
Conflict can result from external forces, as in the following examples:
Internal conflict takes place in the mind and heart of a character, as in Volodya’s conflict in “The Boys.” He struggles with the following:
In the next section of “The Boys,” you will begin to understand why Lentilov and Volodya have been so distant and absorbed. Mayne Reid’s fiction has shaped their thinking. While Thomas Mayne Reid is not a literary giant with the stature of an Anton Chekhov, he was a popular adventure writer in the nineteenth century. The boys may have read his novel The Desert Home published in 1852 or The Boy Hunters, a highly acclaimed scientific travelogue for children published a year later. Regardless of which adventure they read, Reid’s romanticized notions of life in the American West have such a powerful influence that the two Russian lads are thinking of emigrating, without the permission of their parents.
Now, open or return to the PDF of “The Boys” and read Part 2 of the story.
As you are beginning to see through Chekhov’s story, conflict is the obstacle or barricade that throws your character off course. Conflict prevents a character from getting what he or she wants.
When you draft a short story, you will need to create a realistic goal with believable roadblocks that get in the way of the goal. If you are writing about a visit someone made to your house or that you made to someone else’s, was there tension when your visitor arrived or when you visited someone else? What sparked the conflict? What kind of trouble did you and your friend get into? Perhaps some external conflict caused you inner turmoil, as in the case of Volodya.