Monday, May 17, 2010

Our Internal Conflict Versus Character Conflict

If the protagonist is the head of a story or a novel, then, the conflict is the neck which turns the head left, right, up and down. Conflict is crucial to the plot, it can be internal (some trait, flaw, or shortcoming which the protagonist has to overcome in the course of the story) or, the conflict can be external (a villain, some evil, or, an antagonist who has to be fought).

Conflicts single handedly drive the plot forward. Readers frantically turn the pages eager to check how the conflict has been resolved. The tougher the conflict the more intrigued the readers are!

The reason we as writers love and identify with conflict is because it’s an important and integral part of our daily lives. YES. It is. Conflict like change is a constant. In everyone’s life. Don’t we undergo conflict when there are several things that detract us from writing? Isn’t life a constant battle to find time to write as well do several other things? Don’t we have to wage wars with certain temptations and desires so that we can focus our attention on our WIP? Don’t we cringe as the hands on the clock race by and we haven’t chalked decent writing hours in the day? Balancing several duties as well as trying to find time to do something that fulfills us a.k.a writing is a daily conflict. That we have to resolve amicably, so that everyone around is happy.

The same rule applies to and for readers. Life for them too is a daily conflict. Trying to balance several tasks. Trying not to let certain people/events/situations needlessly provoke them into undesired behaviour. Trying to maintain a calmness in the midst of turmoil. Balancing the several duties thrust upon them by family and society against their personal desires is a huge conflict.

With conflicts being such an crucial and integral part of our lives its but natural that the conflicts in our books mirrors the conflicts in our lives. By resolving our character’s conflict we emerge stronger, bolder, and emotionally wiser. Resolving the conflict our protagonist is undergoing at times proves cathartic. Subconsciously we try to imbibe our protagonist’s strengths and at the same time transfer our own strengths to the main character. The characters that we create emulate us in some ways. Perhaps they are our alter egos, a part of our inner desires, our secret wish. By clearing the character’s paths somewhere along our writing journey we are uncluttering our minds from the extra thoughts that constantly reside there, whittling away the unnecessary elements from our lives by getting focused on our writing, and clearing up our emotional debris by concentrating on someone else’s life (read the main character).

Conflicts make characters stronger: both our inner selves and the characters we create. By fighting our main character’s battles we somehow get the strength to resolve the issues we have been dilly dallying over in our lives. And if we have been successful in resolving them beautifully in our books, not just the protagonist but the writer too has emerged victorious.

Do you think that conflicts make us stronger? Have you learnt from your main character’s conflicts? Please share. We would love to know.


  1. I think it's accurate to say that we learn from our characters. I think it's because we give them problems or issues we find interesting and then are forced to explore the problems to find a satisfactory solution. It's probably one of the great pleasures of writing, when I think of it: Time to explore and ponder and resolve various dilemna.

  2. Rachna, another wonderful post. Yes! I have learned a lot from my characters. I have given them crisis after crisis to handle. The more the better.

    And they've taught me about myself.

    Conflict is a daily thing we all must live with. The more my characters have to deal with the better for the reader. I want the readers to be on the edge of their seats. And I certainly hope I've succeeded in that. My story, being an adventure, is filled with lots of problems. (That kinda happens when two girls, thirteen, are lost in the mountains.)

    Conflicts do make us stronger, Rachna. And dealing with my characters conflicts, takes my mind off my own. Which I love. I can't wait to get back into their world each day. This is the life, being a writer, don't you agree?? ;)

  3. Without conflict, you can't have a character grow. It's integral to a good story, I agree!

  4. Robyn, I feel conflict is an integral part of everyone's lives, and makes us stronger. And dealing with character conflicts lets me forget my own problems for a while as I am so absorbed in theirs.

    Elizabeth, I agree that we learn from our characters.

  5. Hi Lydia.... yes conflict is important for characters to grow, mature and learn. That's what life is all about!

  6. Hi Rachna! I think we were on the same wave length this week regarding character development! I really try to have my characters experiencing both internal, external, spiritual, and relational conflicts. I think when we can intertwine various conflicts it really adds depth to our stories.

  7. I have been ruminating about this very thing! I'm tyin go grow out the tension and conflicts in my new WIP. I think too little and the novel is boring, too much and it's too over the top so I like to strike a balance.