|Photo credit: Philippe Put on Flickr|
The root of all stories lies in conflict: from the story of Adam and Eve (a man and woman are told not to eat from the tree of knowledge, but a snake tempts them to do so anyway) to Romeo and Juliette (boy and girl from opposing families fall in love) to more modern stories like The Lord of the Rings (a young hobbit sets out to destroy an evil ring that many more powerful than he would kill to possess).
So what is conflict? Here's dictionary.com's definition:
When it comes to writing, conflict generally comes in two forms: internal and external, and the most interesting stories have a fair mix of both. To recap, internal conflict focuses on psychological and emotional discord (i.e.: the more Frodo wears the ring, the less he wants to destroy it—but he must in order to save Middle Earth) while external conflict operates on a more physical level (i.e.: Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo).
While the balance between the two and the amount and intensity of the conflict will vary a bit genre to genre, it's important to incorporate some kind of conflict or build up to a conflict in every scene.
Now that's not to say that there needs to be a gun-slinging psychopath attacking your characters on every other page. What I mean is in order to keep the story progressing and your readers interested, there needs to be some form of conflict—internal or external—throughout the story. In chapter one it may be something minor, like your protagonist is on his way to a job interview that could change his life and his family's negative opinion of him as a moocher, but a dangerous blizzard has hit early that morning and the terrible road conditions are making it impossible for him to arrive on time. During the climax it may be something much more significant—like a high-stakes wrestling match on Mount Doom that ends with a lost appendage and a tumble into a very active volcano.
There's no question that every story must contain conflict—and with the right mix of internal and external discord, you'll have the start to a great story on your hands.
Which if the two does your story rely on—internal or external (or both)? Do you have a preference writing or reading-wise between the two?