The title is a little vague, so allow me to explain my question in depth here. If someone can think of a better way to phrase the title, feel free to edit it.

First off, my definition of Bridging Conflict:

Bridging Conflict is a minor conflict - usually a question the reader asks himself - that tides the reader over until the novel has introduced what is necessary for the main conflict to arrive (be that setting, characters, stakes, etc.).

This is how I understand Bridging Conflict. My question is: can it still serve its purpose (to act as a substitute main conflict) if the answer to the question it asks is already known?

For example, suppose I'm writing a novel about a zombie apocalypse (don't worry, this just an example). The Bridging Conflict could easily be why everyone is frightened, why there are extra security measures, why all the cities are surrounded by gates, so on and so forth. So far so good. The Bridging Conflict is the question the reader is asking himself: why are these things happening?

What happens if the title of the book makes it plain that it is about zombies? Then the reader can easily answer the question of the Bridging Conflict. "Why are these things happening? Zombies."

Nonetheless, if you do not actually mention zombies within the book itself, at least until the main conflict arrives, there is still an element of suspense and fear of the unknown, because the characters within the novel don't know the answer.

Are these elements enough to override what the reader can infer from the title? Will the Bridging Conflict still work, or will the reader ultimately become frustrated that the characters don't know what's going on, while he does (assuming the Bridging Conflict lasted that long)?

3 Answers 3


Just because the reader knows the reason for the Bridging Conflict doesn't mean the characters will be able to overcome it.

In your example, even if the reader knows all the extra security measures are because of the Zombie Apocalypse, that doesn't mean that the zombies won't break through the security measures. In fact, it lends some extra tension. The reader may not wonder why the city is gated, but may now wonder if the zombies will break through the gate before the heroine has a chance to create the cure.


"Bridging conflict" is nonsense. You only need it if your characters are uninteresting.

A good book has a protagonist with a problem. Apparently, on the surface, the book is about this person saving the world, but the real story is how he or she grows up and solves their personal problem. The adventure (or whatever you want to call it) that begins with the inciting incident is nothing more than what forces and facilitates this maturing. Therefore, what must come before the inciting incident is not some fake secondary conflict that you drop as soon as the real conflict arrives -- sort of like withdrawing your attention from your ugly boring geek coworker as soon as the hot stud junior boss walks in -- but the personal problem of your protagonist. A book about beating back an alien invasion starts with a drunkard losing custody of his child. The aliens force him to get his shit together or see his child die. It ends with the ex wife giving him another chance. The story you tell is the story of your protagonist and the book starts with it right on the first page. The big adventure is just a tool to get your character to change (or show how and why he fails).

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    I am sorry to say that I disagree with your answer on several levels. However, as this is not a place for discussion, I will not name them. My question is about whether Bridging Conflict works if the answer is known. It is not about if Bridging Conflict is necessary. Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 20:55
  • what said, "The story you tell is the story of your protagonist and the book starts with it right on the first page." 100% agree. Also, must say, a novel about ideas (instead of character in conflict sounds very odd although I know they exist). Can you mention a few of those? I'm curious.
    – raddevus
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 22:42
  • @TommyMyron My answer is: bridging conflict never works. It follows from this that it doesn't work in your case either.
    – user5645
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 6:38
  • @SaberWriter Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed starts with an idea (the wall) and the purpose of the novel is to show the flaw in that idea.
    – user5645
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 6:43

I think there's a danger in writing anything to tide the reader over. Especially in the opening, where readers don't yet know whether the story is worth their time.

That doesn't mean you have to start the story with the main conflict. But you have to get us caring about the characters, and you have to do that right away. A great way to do that is to give the character a problem, and let us see the character dealing with it.

It has to be a character we care about. And it has to be a problem that makes us care about the character.

So if you meant 'tides the reader over' the way I interpreted it, I think you're creating a problem for yourself. Instead, figure out a problem or conflict that will compel us to care about the character (or at least invite us to).

As for this particular bridge: If you put zombies in the title, or on the cover art, or in the back cover copy, you have to assume that readers know there are zombies.

If the reader already knows things, whether from the title or the back cover copy or a friend's raving about how awesome your zombie book is, you won't be able to distract readers from that in your opening. You told them that your book is a zombie thrill ride. Readers got on your zombie thrill ride because that's the kind of thrill they want right now.

Instead of trying to build a bridge to the zombie thing, consider featuring the zombies right from the start. Feature the thing that readers already know even before they open the book. Tell the readers about the zombies, but don't tell the characters. There's a term for when readers know things that the characters don't: Dramatic irony. (I wouldn't have called it that, but nobody asked me.)

One of the awesome things about dramatic irony is that can create suspense. You tell the readers about some nasty thing that the characters are walking into, and you don't tell the characters. Readers fear for the characters, who have no idea what they're walking into.

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    Just to clarify, dramatic irony isn't just "The reader knows something the character doesn't," but that what the reader knows makes what the character does or does not know ironic. If A loves B, B receives an anonymous love letter, and B wonders who it's from, that's not dramatic irony. If B receives the letter and trashes it, assuming it's from C, when the reader knows it's from A, that's dramatic irony. Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 18:49
  • Ah. I did not know that. Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 19:50
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    I didn't either. Google is our friend! :) Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:29
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    Spoiler: If the characters are having a noisy celebration of their rescue from the zombies, and we know that noise ATTRACTS zombies and makes them go berserk, then that's dramatic irony.
    – dmm
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 20:07

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