My critique partner just said something in an email that sparked the idea behind this post.
That is an essential element to any book I write and anything I like to read. I start with a basic idea of conflict and then ask myself:
What could complicate this?
What could stop the positive outcome?
What could distract my heroine from her mission?
What could cause my heroine to lose her purpose?
What internal conflicts existed in her before she faced this external conflict? Do they need to be resovled before she can be victorious?
I love to layer the internal and external conflict to the point where the reader can't see how my heroine could possibly triumph (and often I can't either until I get there...usually at 3 am). If a reader can accurately predict the ending to the story and the road I'll take the get there, what would be the point of reading?
All good stories have strong conflict, vivid characters, a clear setting, and a central theme or two to tie it all together.
This is how I approach conflict. Right now I have Alexa in a situation where her incredible hunting skills won't save her because what she hunts isn't human. She needs the help of a warrior who can teach her to track with her other senses but she won't pay the price he wants for the help he offers. She has two Alpha males living under her roof, ostensibly to protect her, though she feels anything but safe. Her interferring neighbor has joined forces with her best friend to marry her off and the one man she wants, she doesn't think she can have, especially when he realizes what she is truly capable of doing. Finally, she is convinced that to stop her enemy, she'll have to kill him and though she's willing to kill to protect those she loves, she isn't sure she can live with herself afterward.