2023: External 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. Lately the Tuesday 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. It made me stop and think about my latest WIP and how the conflict was working itself out in the novel.

Last week we discussed internal conflict so this week we will give equal time to external conflict.

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… The external conflict arc shows change in the character’s outside world.

Example: My job is boring but secure until my boss assigns me to a mixed team of humans and vampires. In trying to fix this problem through various actions, I discover skullduggery going on in the company’s upper management. I have to cooperate with my vampire coworkers to track down the evidence to take to the company’s president.

The story starts when the outside problem first affects the character strongly enough that her life becomes intolerable or unmanageable without fixing the issue.

The bulk of the book is about her efforts to resolve or overcome the problem.

The external conflict arc is the main plot. The internal conflict arc adds richness to the reading experience, but it’s a subplot. The struggles the character goes through in the main plot affect the subplot by helping her to realize the flaw in her false belief and develop a healthier belief. Ideally, the growth in the character’s internal understanding of the world (or of her relationships or of herself) will give her new insight into how to resolve her external problem in the main plot.

The external conflict is the engine of the narrative; it creates the narrative drive. Without a strong external conflict arc, the pace is slow or nonexistent.

If you want to read more about conflict arcs, I recommend Deborah Dixon’s book on goal, motivation, and conflict, and Janice Hardy’s blog, Fiction University. She has years of short articles there on various writing topics including conflict (http://blog.janicehardy.com/2008/02/lack-of-conflict.html). Jenny Crusie’s frequently hilarious writing blog (https://arghink.com) is packed with mini seminars on writing technique, along with musings on TV and movie plots, her dogs, deep thoughts, etc.

If you’re working on writing a short story, novel, screenplay, etc. conflict drives any story. Check out these ideas to help you make the most of your story.

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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