I read an article on conflict some time ago, I wish I could find it again as it was brilliantly done.
It basically started with the premise of a man going to his fiancee's house and stated it pretty much in terms of "he went to his fiancee's house."
Then it "ramped it up" a bit along the lines of "it was raining and night time" to introduce a bit of conflict from the environment.
Still not terribly exciting or engaging.
By the time it got to the last example you have the guy struggling through the storm, the rain lashing against him, soaking him to the skin, stinging his eyes and further blinding him. The wind is freezing, tugging at his saturated clothes, buffeting him and making it hard to walk, whipping him repeatedly with storm-tossed branches. The story gets inside his head, showing why it's so vital he should get to his fiancee, causing him to brave the terrible storm and exploring his determination to get there against all odds.
The last example is filled with conflict and is much better for it. Something as "mundane" as going to his fiancee's house became a personal struggle and a hard-won victory.
That's not to say that every passage has to be filled with conflict, but in the context of that short story, the story revolves around how much of an issue it was to get somewhere. The initial "story" - basically "Jack visited his fiancee, Jill." - had no conflict and you receive it with the same viewpoint as if a friend had said "I went to the shops today" - your immediate thought is "And?" Because quite frankly, you don't give a flying fuck about that - unless your friend has something really interesting to add to it such as "and
I saw Terry Pratchett at the check-out so we chatted about his latest book" or unless you already know
that your friend suffers from both agoraphobia and ME and you're well aware that something as mundane as going to the shop (for most people) is a major achievement for him.
As the reader introduced to the character, your expectation of learning something interesting or relevant (or at least entertaining) is still there and it's the task of the author to convey the relevant information to make it so.
Thus "he went to his fiancee's house" is boring while "he braved the worst storm in 40 years just to bring aid to his beloved" engages the reader's attention - if it's written in such a way that we see both his hardship and determination.
Conflict does not necessarily mean "Hero vs Big Bad". Conflict comes from many sources - the environment, other members of the team of protagonists, the hero's own flaws, failings or uncertainties.
Frankly, I seldom write "villains" - I find it rather over done. I prefer to give the heroes a "mundane" task that seems, at first blush, to be a cake walk - then have it prove to be as difficult as possible due to whatever the environment, the characters' own limitations and the situation can throw at them. If there are any "villains" in my stories, they tend to be minor, rather than a "Big Bad" - the punk that steps out of an alley and tries to relieve them of their valuables, the arsehole who tries to make things difficult for them because he's taken a dislike to them etc.
That way, I can test them in a number of different ways and even escalate the obstacles without the reader wondering "why didn't the Big Bad just send out all his troops at once and wipe them out rather than sending out successively "tougher" opponents at regular intervals?"
But still, Big Bad or not, the conflict is still there. It's been said that without conflict, there is no story - and I agree with that. Take out all the conflict and what you basically have is a very short bit of text that is usually called "the plot summary".
"Joe and his trusted friends are sent out to find a shrubbery. They discover his mum had one in the basement all along."
So much for the synopsis, now let's get some conflict into that and tell
this fucking story.