This post is written I guess in response to Elizabeth Spann Craig's post, Creating Conflict (a great read by the way). I very much agreed with her point about conflict and felt she provided an interesting technique for writers to use when developing conflicts.
Having read her post, I naturally began thinking about how I create conflict for my characters and how important those conflicts are and where they came from. Then I began thinking about other writers and the conflicts they have created and what I started to think about was how a certain set of events in one story might be absolutely amazing and moving, while in the next the same series of events might seem flat and uninteresting.
Certainly there are epic tales out there that I have found exceedingly dull. The world (whatever world it may be) is in peril, and this character is on the brink of death and that character is doing something that should seem extraordinary, and I am bored. I am reading a few pages at a time and putting the book down to talk to someone, to play with my cat or something equally mundane. The worst thing is when I put a book down to do the dishes; that tells me clearer than anything that I am hating reading the book.
What this told me was that the exact nature of the conflict wasn't what kept me interested in reading a story. For some people, maybe the conflict is what grips them, but it won't hold my attention. Possibly, that is because every real conflict has been done before, in one variation or another. I remember a university lecturer once told me (though I cannot remember which one) that there were four basic types of conflict (man against man, man against nature, man against himself, and many against monster) and that every conflict fell into one of these categories. While the same may be said of all story elements, I find that there is a little more variety in character types, and certainly I find that good characters very much become unique entities, no matter what archetype is originally employed.
I have always known that characters are what sell a story to me. Anything that they do becomes infinitely more interesting if I care whether or not they come through it. The conflict can be vast or simple, as long as I care about the character, I will read every line in tense anticipation, waiting to see the outcome.
Having recently read Nathan Bransford's post about favourite characters (more importantly the comments about characters) I realise I am not alone in my fascination with characters.
Stories really are a juggling act between characters, setting and plot. Each one has its place, and getting even one wrong, or ignoring it in preference of the others, really could see you alienate your readers.
Let me know your views on characters, plot or conflict.