Nurturing Your Inner Conflict

Maass_workbook True to my word in yesterday’s post, the last few days I’ve begun my work day by reading a chapter or two in some of my favorite “How-To” writing books. So far, it’s been a valuable exercise, particularly in the area of character development.

Last Thursday, I wrote about who my characters were based on. But that doesn’t address who they really are. What drives them? What experiences have they had that continue to impact them throughout their lives? What are their quirks? The answers to these questions help to create vibrant, compelling characters that, as they say, jump off the page.

One of the key questions I’ve been working on is defining my characters’ inner conflicts. It is an important part of making your characters memorable, and frankly, I don’t think I’ve given it enough thought, even with my main character, Isabel Wilde. I feel like I have a clear idea of who she is and what her desires are, but how am I making that clear to the reader?

First, what is inner conflict? It’s when a person wants two or more things that are mutually exclusive, or, put another way, two opposite desires that are equally strong.

A simple example would be a guy who hates his job, but can’t quit if he wants to make the payments on his expensive dream car. What will he choose–the awful job or the cool car? Hopefully, your characters will display less shallow forms of inner conflict, but you get the idea.

Another example? A woman whose in love with two men: one is boring, but she knows will give her a security life, and the exciting bad boy who will only cause her grief.

Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook has been a great tool for me because the chapters are short and to the point. It also incorporates many examples from published fiction which makes it more interesting than just reading instructional text. It forces me to define Isabel Wilde’s inner conflict, which in the end, will make her a much better character.

Holly West

One Comment

  1. Hello again, another great post.
    I’ve long held the belief that characters are the true driving force of stories. Many disagree with me, but i think its true.
    We’ve come to the point now as writers and readers where every story has been re-written and re-told; there are only new characters.
    All stories are driven by life itself, whether you choose to tell that story in a historical setting or on another non-existent planet, the story is still based around the lives of people.
    It is the people in your real life that make your life what it is. As it will be the characters in your book that make your story what it is.
    It happens in Film too. There are people who have never seen Gone with the Wind, but they know who Rhett Butler is. There are people who have never seen Star Wars, but they know who Darth Vader is.
    When you read a book, finish it, and miss the characters after you finish the last page, you know you’re getting the next one. But you couldn’t really turn around and give me a detailed run-down of the plot you just read without glossing over it, could you? Yet you know the characters like they are close relatives, or even an extension of yourself.
    The key to making people love your book is to put in it characters that feel so real, the reader imagines one of these three things:
    1) That character being so much like the reader that they feel they share much of the same characteristics, and are essentially the same person.
    2) The reader knows or is related to someone exactly like the character.
    3) That the character could be out there somewhere, in the real world. one day they might cross the reader in the street, brush shoulders, give a quick smile, and then they’ll be gone.
    Great Books = Great Stories = Great Lives Life = Great People = Great Characters.

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