2023: Internal Conflict in Your Plot

As a writer for The Wild Rose Press, I attend their Tuesday night chats (http://chat.thewildrosepress.com/) and have learned a lot from editors and other speakers. This last Tuesday the topic was conflict in stories by Eilidh MacKenzie, a 15-year veteran editing for The Wild Rose Press. With permission, I am going to share some of what I learned last week. It made me stop and think about my latest WIP and how the conflict was working itself out in the novel.

We’re going to divide this blog up into two parts: one for internal conflict of your characters within the story and then next week, external conflict.  Both are important in story telling to keep the story fresh and vibrant.

Eilidh said the following about conflict:

Conflict is the Engine of Your Narrative Drive. Internal conflict alone is never enough. You need the external conflict as well.

INTERNAL conflict derives from the thoughts, beliefs, and emotions of the characters.

Example: I believe all vampires are evil creatures and must be exterminated.

EXTERNAL conflict comes from a NEW problem or dilemma or a danger from OUTSIDE of the character’s normal life that requires ACTION.

Example: My boss assigns me to lead a mixed team of human and vampire employees.

The CONFLICT ARC is about change, from one settled state that is disrupted by a new problem… through efforts to deal with the disruption with escalating tension… to a climax that resolves into a final new settled state different from the original state.

The internal conflict arc shows changes in the character’s thought, beliefs, or emotions.

Example: I believe all vampires are evil creatures and must be exterminated. I get to know several vampires and find some are helpful and caring. My belief changes to acknowledge that vampires are like the rest of us: good, bad, and indifferent.

When a story is based on internal conflict, there’s a lot of sitting and thinking, musing, agonizing, and introspection. The character isn’t taking action, and neither is the book. The pace is dead.

Any conflict that can be resolved with an honest conversation is not enough to support a plot.

Make sure she’s not just sittin’ and thinkin’. Give her a scene goal relevant to the main conflict or the subplot conflict. Put her in action and make her overcome obstacles to that scene goal. Or not overcome the obstacle and make the situation worse.

Then, when I finally have my coworker chained with silver and under my stake, begging to know Why Are You Doing This??? and I tell her about the vampires who slaughtered my family, she says, “Yeah, I remember reading about that. But it wasn’t vampires. It was werewolves.”…  

All I can say is “Oh. Sorry about this.” The End.

Oops! That fell flat.  Maybe we needed a little external conflict here to round things out for the reader. Stories need both internal and external conflict. Be sure to give your characters plenty of both.

Next week, we’ll talk more about external conflict and how it makes your story better. Be sure to check out the other half of conflict in stories.

What are you reading/writing this week?


About peggylchambers

Peggy Chambers calls Enid, Oklahoma home. She has been writing for several years and is an award winning, published author, always working on another. She spends her days, nights, and weekends making up stories. She attended Phillips University, the University of Central Oklahoma and is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She is a member of the Enid Writers’ Club, and Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. There is always another story weaving itself around in her brain trying to come out. There aren’t enough hours in the day!
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2 Responses to 2023: Internal Conflict in Your Plot

  1. Tom Crossley says:

    Yup, conflict is key for drama/content in the story! Otherwise it would be boring… For me, I’ve been writing a lot of flash fiction recently and about to start reading ‘the cat that saved books.’ Interesting post


  2. Tom Crossley says:

    Oh I liked the vampire examples haha


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