There are two parts to creating conflict in your story.
One: The situation. Somewhere along the line, your character will find themselves in a situation that causes trouble or unhappy feelings. The classic example is the character who has lived somewhere all his/her life, and then suddenly finds out that he/she has to move. This is then cause for all kinds of discomfort and anger and bad things.
Two: The villain. This should be self-explanatory, except there are some things to keep in mind to keep your villain from becoming predictable. For example, if we continue with this scenario of moving away, the villain would be someone at the new school who for some inexplicable reason wants to make the main character’s life a living Hell. This is predictable, especially if it’s a movie for preteens. Girl wearing all pink walks up, spills milk carton on main character, says “oops,” and walks away laughing with her other miniskirt-clad friends. In order to take your villain and make him/her unpredictable, consider some of the following options.
A) Betrayal – In this case, if you are not careful, the betrayal will be just as expected as the milk-spilling incident. If you’re going to have a “good” character go bad, then make it impossible to predict it. Develop reader sympathy or liking for this character, or make it so multiple characters are suspicious so that no one stands out from the group.
B) Multiple Villains – While one dude is taking all of your character’s time and energy to find and defeat, it’s nice to throw in a little, “Surprise! I wasn’t the only bad guy!” Betrayal can work in this situation quite nicely.
C) Abstract Villain – Is there even a tangible bad guy? This scenario is tricky and delicate. It can go very wrong very quickly. BUT, if you choose to pursue it, then you can really make a nice comment on society. In this case, the bad guy is not really a person so much as a thought or an obsession. Secret Window did this, but badly. Remember that movie? Johnny Depp ended up being the bad guy that everyone was trying to find. It was a bad movie. Don’t do that.
Here’s a good example: In one of my (unpublished) books, Leaves, there are “creatures” known as Phantoms that live in a dark, creepy, archetypal forest. As I was trying to design them, I went with a ton of different concepts. One idea was to make them kind of like shadows that could move around, and that was the one I wanted to go with except that, well…it wasn’t scary. And I wanted it to be scary! At the very least a little bone-chilling or spine-shiver-inducing. So, I took away their bodies. I gave them voices, but made them omnipresent. They were ahead and behind, above and below, and generally all around. Suddenly I had scary! Because nothing’s scarier than an enemy you can’t see!
Or is it??
Word of the day: Convulsion (n) – contortion of the body caused by violent, involuntary muscular contractions of the extremities, trunk, and head.