Show the Inner and Outer Conflicts of Your Characters

Show the Inner and Outer Conflicts of Your Characters by Joan Y. Edwards

To make your writing come alive, show the inner and outer conflicts of your characters. To write a best-selling book for children or adults, show the inner and outer conflicts of your characters. To make writing more fun, show the inner and outer conflicts of your characters.

To help you do this, invite your main character to visit you today.Your main character’s name is Dave. I took the liberty of inviting him for a visit with me. Your name is Best-Selling Author – (insert your name here). I believe your main character will help you find his inner and outer conflicts if you do this.

Best-Selling Author: Hello, Dave. Thanks for coming..

Dave: To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to come.

Best-Selling Author: Why not, Dave? What’s the problem?

Dave: I’ve got too much on my mind.

Best-Selling Author: I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me what’s wrong?

Dave: I want to spend the weekend fishing at the lake with my son.

Best-Selling Author: Why can’t you do that?

Dave: It’s his mother’s turn to have him this weekend.

Best-Selling Author: Have you asked her to switch weekends with you?

Dave: I’m afraid to ask her. She gets really upset when I suggest a change in schedule. Then she might not let me see him at all. I haven’t seen him in six weeks. I’ve had to work every weekend.

Best-Selling Author: Wow! That’s too bad.

Dave: There’s another problem, too.

Best-Selling Author: What’s that?

Dave: I was supposed to be off this weekend. My boss says I need to be at the open house on Saturday and Sunday. We’ve got to sell that house. If I don’t sell that house, I’m going to be out of a job at Sell Fast Realty.

Best-Selling Author: You’re afraid your boss will fire you if you don’t show up for the open house. You’re afraid you ex-wife won’t let you switch weekends so you can have your son. How do you feel about all this, Dave.

Dave: I feel threatened on all sides. I’ve got to have the money from the job. I also need to be with my son. I want to be dependable.  I need to be respectful of my ex-wife’s feelings. I need to be respectful of my own feelings. I don’t see how I can win.

As you can see from this dialogue, Dave has to solve his inner conflicts before he can tackle the outer conflicts in his life to get his goal of going fishing with his son.  In his mind he’s having to choose between his job and getting what he wants is to spend time with his son. He is going to have to visualize himself succeeding before he will be able to solve his problems. He’s got to change his current belief system, learn new facts, learn new skills, get a different attitude to win in spite of the odds against him.

Look at your characters. What is their big outer conflict? What are the other conflicts? What are the underlying inner conflicts? Figure it out.

To gain more readership, show conflicts on every side of your main character so he is forced to make a change.  He must be able to win inspite of his flaws. His flaws and the consequences of his actions takes him down to the very deepest and darkest of situations, however he figures out a way to win.

Does your main character have a body feature that helps or hinders him? A huge nose, a big bahonkus, small ears.

Does your character own a pet or a person as a sidekick that is both a pain and a blessing, intermittently. For instance, sometimes the pet helps and other times it blocks the main character from achieving his goal.  One day the sidekick gets him two steps ahead of the problem, but the next day he makes a colossal mistake that puts the main character behind the eight ball. The sidekick can also be used to add humor when the tension is tight.

Choose meaningful blocks, walls, and full blockades so that your character sinks to the worst situation possible during the framework of your story before they have the epiphany-the aha moment that leads them to defeat the enemy. This aha moment enables them to dissolve blocks, walls, and blockades no matter how strong they are.

What does the main character want more than anything in the whole world?
Give three physical, close environment, world environment  (outer conflict) reasons why he can’t get it?
Give three psychological (inner conflict) reasons why he can’t get it or why he can’t have it?

Conflict adds excitement and suspense to the story. Actually the conflict is what keeps the reader turning the page. They want to find out how things turn out for your characters. They want to find out what your main character does and what the consequences are. They want to find out what the villain (opposing force) does each time to stop the main character from getting what he wants.

Show what disturbed him beyond belief.
Show the causes of distress for the main character.
Show the people, things in the environment, the experience(s) that disrupt the regular, normal, ordinary day of the main character.
Show what happens that the main character may try to ignore but cannot.
Show how he reacts on the inside with thoughts, ideas, emotions.
Show his actions and reactions to the conflicts.
Show how he deals with this problem, internally and externally.

The internal conflict comes when the main character has to choose between two unwanted solutions to the problem. For example:

one moral, one immoral
one where he loses money, one where he loses love
one against his family rules, one against club’s rules
one that might hurt his friend, one that might hurt himself
one that might win the trust of his friends, one that would make him untrustworthy
one that makes him lie, one that makes him tell the truth

These mixed emotions from the conflicts add the tension to the story and make people want to read it to find out what the main character decided to do and what the consequences were for his actions….did it bring him closer to the goal, or bring him to his last breath.

I hope you enjoyed my blog post. Please leave a comment. If you haven’t subscribed to my blog, I would be honored if you would.

Keep writing in spite of all the conflicts that try to keep you from writing your dream story. Never Give Up. Put a picture of you as a paid published author in your mind. You are a paid published author in your mind before you get that way on paper.  You are a New York Best-Selling Author in your mind, before you are in reality. You can do it. Yes, you can. Go for it.

Do something to celebrate being you!
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright 2011 Joan Y. Edwards. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Show the Inner and Outer Conflicts of Your Characters”

  1. Very comprehensive post. Enjoyed the little dialogue with Dave! I’m going to add this to my class wiki for “Crafting Characters that Connect” at cpcc this summer. Required reading right here! Thanks.

    1. Dear Carol, Thanks for writing. I’m glad you liked my dialogue with Dave. Thanks for adding this to your class wiki for “Crafting Characters that Connect” at CPCC this summer. I’ve been promoted to required reading status for your class. I am excited and honored. Do something fun for you today!

      Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Hi Joan,

    Isn’t it great to know that your blog posts are helping students in writing courses as well as writers across the board?

    Conflict is something most of us try to avoid unless we are aiming to be good writers. Thanks for the dialogue and tips. Your comments are helpful.

    Linda A.

    1. Dear Linda, It is definitely exciting to know that my blog posts are helping students in writing courses, as well as writers across the board. I am very humbled and honored by that. That’s true, in life we try to avoid conflict at almost any cost. However, to write great fiction, we have to be courageous and confront our characters every which way they turn. We have to insure that they have no escape hatch. That they have to solve the problem themselves. That’s a tall order. However, you and I and all the writers who strive to do that, do an outstanding job. Thanks for writing.

      Have a Flip Flap Floodle Day!

      Joan Y. Edwards, Author/Illustrator Flip Flap Floodle at Amazon Website Never Give Up

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