I hear the groans out there already. I pretty much threw a fit myself when I got in this far and all the guy had to say was, “The essence of story is conflict.”
Well, everyone knows that, don’t they? Of course, if I really knew what it meant I would have done my homework and put it into my story. I wouldn’t be working a cruddy day job that I hate instead of writing novels and sipping espresso in the cafe. Oh, wait a minute, I do sip espresso in the cafe. Maybe that’s my problem after all: too much sipping and not enough plotting.
So fight on and find out what Maass means by conflict.
Conflict is an easy principle to understand. We all experience it every day. Most of it is quickly forgotten. Conflict that holds our attention for long periods of time is meaningful, immediate, large scale, surprising, not easily resolved and happens to people for whom we feel sympathy.
On the other hand:
Problems that are abstract, remote, trivial, ordinary, easily overcome and/or happening to someone for whom we feel little may be fit for a casual conversation or perhaps the evening news, but they cannot fuel a gripping novel.
Now this is good stuff. If you have been searching for a definition of conflict, conflict in the breakout, popular novel sense, this is about as good a definition as you will find.
My work definitely falls into the second category. I tend to focus on the smaller problems in life and while these things are “nice” they are never going to fuel any lasting interest in my work.