on Writers Helping Writers:
All right, hands up: What’s the one thing we can’t get enough of in fiction but we avoid like a screaming toddler in real life? Conflict.
It’s ironic that something we try to avoid in the real world is the very thing we can’t get enough of in books. Psychologically speaking, though, it makes perfect sense. Books do not significantly trigger a reader’s fight-or-flight instincts, making it safe for them to experience conflict—after all, that bad stuff is happening to someone else. Yet, if the story is well written, it draws them in so they’re right there with the hero or heroine, feeling some of that dread, anger, and confusion. They identify with the character’s experiences because their own real-life ones have taught them the agony of uncertainty and fear and what it’s like to feel completely outmatched.