The Conflict Web

By Gail Gaymer Martin

While skimming an article on a variety of writing fiction topics, a new thought came to me—the complexity of conflict. Though I’ve shared many posts on conflict, one element that comes to mind hasn’t been covered, and that is the spider element of conflict. By this I mean, as a spider weaves a tangled web—and has numerous legs—so can conflict.

One basic conflict can be multifaceted with outreaching legs that add to the conflict. Let me provide a couple of examples.

The family man who wants the best for his family strives at his career to gain promotions that will offer him more money and prestige. Naturally he has competition, other men who are also working toward this goal. This is conflict one, but conflict two is not far away. While he struggles to work extra hours and goes the longer distance at work with responsibilities that take time and thought, he also finds that he must neglect his family time. This creates guilt and a contradiction to his purpose for working hard. His goal is to provide a better life for his family.

At this point the desire to provide well for his family has created two true to life conflicts – competition for the limited promotions and time from his family. Now we could add conflict three. Perhaps this man learns that to really make the grade, he must do a bit of underhanded dealings—make promises he knows he can’t keep, accept money under the table to offer more benefits than he should, or a number of other things. This conflict goes against his reputation as a man of honor and his belief in honesty. This then adds a third conflict to a goal that already has the pressure of two other conflicts. You can see that one goal and one conflict can be like the spider’s web and become far more complex and outreaching than what it seems at first.

Even a romance can take a step in this direction. A sister meets a new man and is attracted. He finds her interesting too, and they enjoy each other’s company on a cruise or a vacation spot or even in the office where they are employed. In the getting to know each other stage, the sister learns that of all things, he once dated her sister who was very much in love with him. It never dawned on her that this was the Dave that her sister grieved over for so long. Now the desire to develop a relationship with this man—conflict one—adds the problem that will result between her and her sister. So we have conflict two, but let’s add another conflict. Then she learns that this man has been dating another woman for a while and he knows that she wants an engagement ring, but he’s never looked at their relationship that way. Now the question arises: Is he a man who can be faithful to her, a man of integrity, or is he a man who chases woman? She’s crazy about him, but is it the woman’s misunderstanding that’s in the way or the man she’s been falling for? We now have three conflicts.

Think of other issues in your novels that have multifaceted conflicts. If you study them, you may see or be able to add a deeper complexity by filtering the goal and the conflict into another avenue that will add another serious conflict to the issue. Conflicts can deal with individuals, groups, ideas, faith issues, morals or numerous other options. Look deeply into conflicts and help them to spider out into a more tangled web. Readers will enjoy the journey, and it can bring them back to other novels you’ve written and look for new ones to come.


gailmartinMulti-award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian fiction for Love Inspired and has written for Barbour Publishing, where she was honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has fifty-two contracted novels with nearly four million books in print. She is the author of Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations and presents workshops at conference across the US. She was named one of the four best novelists in the Detroit area by CBS local news. She lives with her husband in a northwest Detroit suburb. Visit her website at Her latest book, The Firefighter’s New Family, released in January and Rescued By the Firefighter releases in March. She has also an ebook novel release recently: Dreaming of Castles.

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