Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Internal Conflict

For me, writing the external conflict is easy. It's the big picture idea that suddenly comes to me and gets me all excited about a new WiP. But, as a reader, it's the internal conflict that keeps me glued to my favorite books and emotionally invested in the story. One of my favorite series (Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth) is packed full of external action, but also manages to create compelling internal conflict for almost all characters in the story (even the bad guys).

So, what is internal conflict? It's the internal battle(s) going on inside each character and the way the writer reveals the character arc/growth. The internal conflict should play off of the external conflict, but doesn't always need to correlate one-to-one. And plot points can be used to give a character what he thinks he wants, although it does nothing to move the character closer to the external goal. Sometimes, the whole point might be to allow your character to discover that he didn't actually want what he thought he wanted.

The best advice I've found on how to effectively use internal conflict comes from Fiction Factor:

Find the main character's Achilles' heel (the root source of his/her internal conflict) and stomp it (external conflict).














In my opinion, the internal conflict the writer chooses to include is really what makes a reader fall in love with a story (or hate it). The internal conflict is the part the reader can personally relate to and so, if we writer's don't make it believable enough, or interesting enough (pages of "should I wear the red dress or the blue skirt today?" narrative isn't going to do it) then the reader won't feel emotionally invested in our stories no matter how amazing the external conflict is. And, we have to be careful to resolve all internal conflict by the end of the story or else the reader will feel let-down.

What do you think? Do you put a large focus on the internal conflict for the characters in your stories? Do you think about the internal conflict and character arc for characters other than the MC/POV characters to make sure their actions/speech reveal their inner turmoil as well?

16 comments:

  1. Excellent post - I love internal conflict! I'm finding I'm more of a character driven writer, so all of my characters have drama going on (even if it's only in their heads!).

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  2. Internal conflict is a lot of fun to write! I think you're right, if a reader can't feel internal conflict, they probably won't keep on turning the pages.

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    1. It is fun :) Especially in YA where there's so much material to work with!

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  3. Great post! I think revealing a character's internal conflict is critical to keeping the reader's attention. I try hard to give the reader access to the character's thoughts and motive through internal narrative, dialogue and especially action. Going to tweet this post!

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  4. The point you make about internal conflict being a point of identification between your character and the reader is important, especially if you're writing sci-fi or fantasy, where the external world is completely foreign to the reader. When we introduce our readers to a world they'll never actually visit, and have them walk in the shoes of our characters as they fight battles our readers will never actually fight, or make decisions our readers will never have to actually make, it's those struggles at the core of our characters being that help our readers connect. "Should I do the right thing, even if it hurts the ones I love?" "I want to honor my parents, but I love the guy/girl they don't approve of..." etc.

    Great article, A. K.!

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    1. Exactly! And well put :) It's all about the reader being able to simplify the problem down to something they can connect with despite a new world/situation (fantastical or not - I would have just as difficult of a time imagining life in India for example as I would life in a medieval village or fantastical world which doesn't exist).

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  5. Yes, character motivation spurs the reader on to find out what's going to happen. And I love your short quote about the character's achilles heel and stomp on it. I'll remember that one, thank you!

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    1. I love that quote too :) Glad you enjoyed it!

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  6. Yes, I do put a large focus on internal conflict. I think it's vital to good storytelling.

    Great post!

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  7. I LOVE reading internal conflict in novels, but it's so hard for me to write. I usually don't really pin it down until my 2nd or 3rd round of revision. Great post!

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    1. I always have to go back and add more in revisions too - it's all so clear in my head that I sometimes don't realize until revisions that it hasn't all made it to paper :)

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  8. Great post AK. it's about getting that inner voice right so that internal struggle is clear for readers but also allows us to sympathise. When we want to see the MC overcome their worries then the novel achieves effective engagement.

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  9. Internal conflict is what drives a story forward. Without it action is just action without meaning.:)
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com
    Happy A-Zing!

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