Tag Archives: Personal Baggage

Writing Internal Conflict

What causes internal conflict in our characters?

tug-40797_1280Want vs Need:  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 futures—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:

Writing: Conflict

Within and Without?

In all stories there are two kinds of conflict. The inner conflict each character battles with as they face their day to day business, and the outer conflict the characters act out as the story escalates to its inevitable end.

how it works?

Conflict on the page transforms into rising tension within the reader.

Let’s look at a simple example:

The main character aka MC has a severe allergy to cats, and everyone knows she avoids them at all costs. Let’s also say she accidentally runs over one outside her home when she parks her car. Doing the right thing she rushes it to the vet. He can’t save it and she lands up using her rent money to pay the bill.

MC’s roommate aka RM loves cats and has a rescued cat hidden in her bedroom. She has been trying to get the nerve up to tell MC about her new adopted bestie.

When MC gets home and confesses she spent her rent money trying to save a cat, RM won’t believe it. Everyone knows MC hates cats. Probably ran it over on purpose. MC denies it. Here comes RM big chance to tell MC about the cat hidden in RM’s bedroom. But when she goes to get it, it’s gone.

flora-312815_1280bCan you guess where it is?

Conflict is based on relationships

All three characters are interrelated. What happens to one affects the rest—inside and out.

What do you do to bump it up? Any tricks you’d care to share.

Subplots Add Character: Here’s How

Now that I know I need subplots in my story, where do I start?

I like to start by linking back to what I know already. You’ve read some of my posts on characterization—Backstory: Past Events Build Character + Subplots and Why We Need Them + Tracking Subplots and Why We Go So Far

Simple answer to incorporate a subplot, add a character with their own goals, and needs into the story. Let them interfere with the main character (eventually) causing complications that must be dealt with before the story can continue. I’m not referring to the antag. No, these characters are the protag’s friends, workmates, family, and worse yet—a friend of a friend of theirs. The goal is to bring as much real life into the plot as is reasonable.

Who lives their lives with only one thing going on? I have to deal with family, work, pets, my car, etc and still try to meet commitments. It is these little irritations that can be shared over coffee, making friends laugh or cry with you.

But remember adding a subplot is not about word count, it must have a purpose. Before writing a word, make sure the subplot pushes the story forward, interrelates, and adds tension to the overall plot. Subplot must make the story stronger.

Adding subplots through additional characters

The Past
One of the most common subplots is introducing the main character at a previous time of their life. This can be presented as a parallel story of how the MC faced a similar event or antagonist and failed, or it can fill in back story that clarifies motivation.

Branching Out
Another still involving the main character is, s/he is trying to do more than one thing at a time: like job hunting, getting ready to move, and visiting a loved one in the hospital. The main character is living up to others expectations, while also trying to meet their personal goals. This is where branching out to other supporting cast members can be introduced.

Parallel Roads
Another type of subplot is presented side by side (as above) but the characters involved art pixabay CC0 tigerdo not converge at the climax. One character still interferes with the other but from a distance, or unknowingly started a domino effect that complicates the main plot. If the plots do converge, it can be often or not with varying degrees of interference. When I think of this I think affair. Two wo/men never meet but both lives are affected by the others.

Bumping and Banging
Some subplots are almost as big as the main plot when you track the antag and protag slowly bumping into each other (like in a thriller) which inevitably leads to the climax of good against evil in a huge blow out. Chapter by chapter each player moves towards/away from the other attempting to meet their goals.

There are also parallel stories that eventually merge into the main plot and as a group of face the climax.

Theme Related (or The Story Line Continues)
Joy commented on my first blog about subplots. She brought up a very good point. Some characters have such a strong story line that they inspire a book of their own. In a romance series, it is very common to branch out from a group of characters, creating two new lovers and a new romance. In a mystery series, it’s the supporting cast that helps solve crime, or interferes with it, that become as important as the main character.

Just Passing Through
Occasionally there are guest characters that pop in and out of the story, adding a humanizing touch. Every character has a life s/he lives elsewhere; family and friends they love. Some of these characters come in at the beginning only to return at the resolution. Thinks of a purse snatcher that gets away, then much later the MC see them arrested as she rakes her lawn, adding a nice touch of satisfaction.

The Magnet
And finally, the character that brings two worlds together like the wealthy volunteer that helps at a free clinic, or a doctor that goes to a third-world country, or an adopted child brought in to a stable home after living on the street. Sometimes these characters are holders of secrets, of insights, of chaos and bring a new flavor.

I’m sure if we look around our everyday lives we’ll notice more characters we could incorporate. Have I missed anyone? Please share in the comments.

Think You Need Therapy? So Do Most Main Characters.

Last time I brought up building character we talked about baggage and what it does for our cast of players. The funny thing is that like us some of them should get some help. The most eccentric characters can be the most fun. I’m not saying that all characters have to be completely mad, but a fear of spiders, being disgusted when their hair gets messed or a guest not using a coaster does add flavor.

The most well rounded, stable and what we used to call normal people are not the best choice for a main character. They are much too middle of the road to be entertaining, unless you throw a cream pie at them. Well, that’s always funny.

But seriously, normal people have a place in the supporting cast–shoulder to cry on, sage with wise advice, etc. They cope too easily with misfortune, and don’t have an emotional range that an entertaining story requires. Staying in character is a must, so normal doesn’t just throw a hissy fit when it suits the writer. Big no-no that.

Characters can bring humor to a tale, but the darker the problems they carry with them the darker the story can become which leads to the decision making process.

After you decide if your story will be a light read or psychological thriller, you’ll decide on the cast of characters you’ll need to bring it to life. This is also where plot and characterization snowball and evolve together. Here is when I make a general outline–mostly of plot points, and decide on how the characters will interact with each other and the future events.

What I try to do: I imagine a group of people trying to attain personal goals while events beyond their control take place. I already know that some characters will have agendas that have nothing to do with the story. For this example I’ll use a murder mystery because the lines are pretty clear as to what the story goal is. “A” is trying to find the killer. “B” is trying to get away with murder. “C” thinks he knows whodunit and wants lots and lots of money to keep quiet. “D” just wanted to have a nice dinner and is very upset that “E”, the victim, died at the biggest event of the season–not that she liked him very much anyway. If you put everyone in one room, there will be a heck of a show. Other cast members are there too. Some stand back. Some try to stop the arguments. Some just want to get out of there.

Since we are looking for conflict and tension I think we’ll have that. In fact, I strongly suspect that “D” might kill “B” for ruining her party.

Using baggage, and slightly off balanced characters can add flavor to your plot. So don’t let your main characters get any psychological help until after the writing is done. Slowly becoming “normal” can be part of your character’s arc.

What are some of your favorite characters? Do any of them need therapy or do you love them as is? 🙂

Back Story: Past Events Build Character

This first time wrote a story, the feedback I received asked what was my character’s motivation. At the time I didn’t understand what they meant and rewrote the whole thing thinking I wasn’t clear as to why my main character went from one scene to the next. But they weren’t commenting on a plotting issue.

Have you ever been haunted by the past? Has it made you do something wild or crazy that makes no sense to an outsider looking in? Someone that knows you and has seen your heart or your past is able to truly understand where you come from and what drives you forward.

I want all readers to be my main character’s oldest and dearest friends. I want them to understand why she stopped the man she really, really likes from kissing her goodnight. Or why an enemy stepped in to the rescue someone he hates.

I’m not a psychologist. I can only use my experiences to figure out why someone else would, or would not act. What stops me flat? Memories of moments that infuriated me, embarrassed me, touched me. Sometimes instinct takes over, the feeling so raw I’m lost in the moment with the consequence’s white light searing into me.

To make my players come alive, to make it clear as to why a character takes action I use backstory. By slipping in a line or two, I can confide a secret, a scar, a confession or deep desire from the past.

I’m careful on the approach and do not include any backstory until after the inciting incident. Then I ask myself how much of a bump in the forward motion the story can endure. History should enhance the reader experience, not bog them down. Think of pacing, and I try to keep the rhythm steady.

Although I know every detail, that doesn’t mean I have to share all of it. In this case think of a fan dancer. Everyone knows the fan dancer is naked, but how much she chooses to show is completely up to her. The audience hopes for more, but she only gives them quick glimpse when it suits her.

Taking it a step further think of the story as the two feather fans, and the glimpses are the backstory. The whole dance may keep the audience attention, but its curiosity keeps them focused on the whole. We all know what’s behind the fans. Backstory, human history and like most us it contains love, heartache, embarrassment, growth, and rage. No long explanation is needed.

And if one is required, or the reader needs more emotion and detail insert a flashback. Make sure you think this through though. If backstory adds a bump to the flow, a flashback stops it dead. Some deciding factors are: does it deepen the reader’s understanding and emotional investment, and can using this device avoid using a prologue? If so, here are some suggestions: never insert one before the inciting incident, frame the flashback or be sure there is a clear beginning and transition back into the original storyline, place it strategically to feed the building tension, and use as few as possible.

Backstory and flashbacks are two vehicles that allow a writer to begin in medias res and still tell a complete story. They can explain the character motivation and give the reader a glimpse as to why one player chooses a red outfit instead of a grey one, a terrier instead of a massif, a hotdog instead of a steak and to run away or stand and fight.

Gathering baggage builds our character.

What kind of baggage is your character dragging around? Why can’t they let go? Are there any hidden issues that belong to you?