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Monday, August 1, 2011

CREATING CONFLICT: DON’T FIGHT IT—FINESSE IT (PART ONE)

  
by Margaret Birth


Okay, y’all, hear this! NO MATTER HOW OBNOXIOUS YOUR CHARACTERS ACT, OR HOW MUCH THEY BICKER, IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT THEY HAVE ADEQUATE CONFLICT!!! Got it?

There are two kinds of conflict in fiction: internal and external. Both play important roles in character and plot development. For now, I’ll discuss internal conflict.

Internal conflict is an emotional road-block; it’s something inside a character that keeps him or her from doing or becoming whatever he or she wants.

For example, a hero may place road blocks on the path to a developing romantic relationship; if he’s afraid of being abandoned again just as his mother abandoned him when he was little, the hero’s internal conflict is a fear of abandonment. Of course, being a disciplined guy with a strong personality and definite goals, he’s not just going to open right up and admit to something that he may see as a weakness, or as a part of his past that’s best left in his past; instead, he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to keep himself from being made vulnerable to the hurt that can come from loving someone else.

Keep in mind:  Both your hero and your heroine should have some kind of internal conflict. It needn’t be earth-shattering; it could be as simple as a job that consumes the heroine’s life, to the point where she never takes time to smell the roses—or to commit to a serious relationship—because she wants her dad to be proud of how well she runs the family business.

Often, a character doesn’t recognize an internal conflict for what it is until he or she meets someone special; in other words, internal conflicts tend to be well-engrained. But then this new loved-one challenges the character’s ability to break down the walls caused by this internal conflict—which results in fear, excitement...and battles of will between the two.

Since the goals people set for themselves are closely related to how they perceive of themselves, a character’s goal and internal conflict may also be closely related. Think, for instance, of a prosecution lawyer-heroine who’s distressed when she realizes that she’s falling in love with a defense attorney; ever since she was abused as a child in the foster care system but no one believed her when she sought help, her goal in life has been to protect victims. Her goal (to protect victims) and her internal conflict (the childhood pain she holds onto so tightly that she identifies with all victims, and has trouble forgiving her defense attorney-sweetheart whenever he gets an alleged criminal set free) are closely tied together.

A hero and heroine often have internal conflicts and/or goals that mirror one another.

If you give your hero and heroine each an internal conflict, then you’ll have a good foundation on which to develop characters and build a plot—one that includes lots of scenes with fiery clashes and equally passionate vows of peace and love. ♥



Margaret Birth is a Christian writer who has been widely published in short fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry, both in the U.S. and abroad; in addition to working as a freelance writer, she's spent over a decade freelancing for multiple publishers as a manuscript reader, proofreader, and copy editor.

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