Writing Internal Conflict

What causes internal conflict in our characters?

tug-40797_1280Want vs Need:ย  Often a character is torn between what they need and what they want. An example is marrying for love or money. Another might be keeping a child or giving them up for adoption.

The more heartfelt the choice and its consequences the deeper the inner conflict.

Recovering from past wounds: All our characters should have a backstory full of past wounds and regrets. These wounds will only heal if they are confronted and conquered. Until then the inner pain will stop the character from chasing their dreams or desires.

Dragging baggage through a story or letting it go can be a huge source of inner conflict.

Beliefs and assumptions: How a characters sees their world shapes their reactions within it. An example is their world is a cold place to raise a child, so they may go to great lengths to prevent conception. Another would be if they could only find love then everything would be okay.

It doesn’t matter if the belief or assumption is true. What matters is how the character choose to behave because of what they believe.

Armor or mask: Some characters present a false self to their world. They keep tug-40797_1280aa wall around them or wear a mask as they interact with the world and the other characters in it. Fear of rejection or of judgement can put the mask in place, but emotional armor doesn’t really protect anyone.

In mysteries, its purpose is to hide the killer.

A common source of inner conflicts is fear: What frightens a character the most? Change? Exposure? The truth? Fear of never learning from past mistakes, phobias, torn between two possible futuresโ€”making a decision and living with it forever.

Fear of the unknown.

Each conflict demands the character make a conscience choice, commit to it and accept consequences. This can happen once, or repeatedly depending on the character’s journey.

Which is your favorite inner conflict?

Gleaned from:

26 responses to “Writing Internal Conflict

  1. I think recovering from past wounds and need vs want are my favorite when it comes to inner conflict. Another one I like is repression, the lengths a character would go through to repress their desires. The lies they’ll tell themself to not acknowledge what they really want and the excuses they make if they stumble and stray from their original repress goal.

  2. My current manuscript is more in the recovering from past wounds stage (not that she’ll get out of it in this book–maybe around book four). There’s other conflicts, but her past baggage is really holding her back. Great post on conflicts in stories!

  3. I think it’s great you share your words of wisdom with others. Keep up the great work.
    sherry @ fundinmental

  4. Inner conflict is always the hardest to write and get right. My favorite inner conflict is from past wounds, especially childhood wounds.

  5. Great list. I probably use past wounds more than anything.

  6. Guilt is good source of inner conflict, also a good source of manipulation that your antagonist can sometimes use against your protagonist. Great post.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  7. Terrific post. I don’t have a favorite inner conflict. It always depends on a story and its characters.

  8. I think I use recovering from past wounds a lot.

  9. I usually enjoy when a character/story struggles with things that aren’t so clear cut, where right and wrong aren’t so black and white.

  10. Recovering from past wounds. I like seeing character growth and healing.

  11. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think dragging around baggage is the one I love the most. I feel evil but I love torturing my characters and giving them all sorts of past trauma. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. I love inner conflict ๐Ÿ™‚ I really do, specially when a character has a dark past and needs to recover from it in order to move on. But sometimes letting go and forgiving are not so easy, anyway, I love reading about characters with well written pasts.
    Great topic

    Ruty @Readingโ€ฆDreaming

  13. I am a huge believer in the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) method of drafting fiction. And part of that is the external vs. internal conflict…it’s tough in children’s fiction because they don’t have the deep conflicts we have as adults, especially if I’m writing a light, fluffy book.

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