Sunday, December 27, 2009

Knowing Your Characters... Inside AND Out!

An introduction to my take on conflict.

I've slowly but surely been giving thought to my new project. It's still untitled and it's still unwritten. But I have been getting to know my new characters. And, man, let me tell ya--I'm having FUN doing it!

All fun aside though, the process is teaching me about something really important. Okay, maybe "reminding me" would be a better phrase, as it's something I already knew... And I'm sure it's something you already know as well. But, for me, "knowing it" and concentrating on it? Apparently they're two completely separate things!

Characters need to have internal conflict AND external conflict. And we're talking ALL characters--main & secondary.

Because conflict adds depth. It keeps characters from coming across as cardboard cutouts.

Knowing my characters' internal and external conflicts ahead of time is helping my new plot to practically write itself. Seriously. I WISH I'd done this with Shattered! Though I came to understand what drove my characters through how they behaved with the twists and turns I threw into their lives, I think it would have been much easier to write, had I known those driving forces ahead of time.

Internal Conflict:
  • Takes place in a character's mind. (Man vs. Self)
  • Helps readers to identify with the character.
  • Includes: Mixed emotions. Decision making.
  • Includes: Longings/Desires
  • Includes: Doubts

External Conflict:
  • Takes place outside of a character's mind.
  • Could be: A person (possibly the antagonist, but not all of the time) who stands in the way of what the character wants. (Man vs. Man)
  • Could be: Weather keeping the character from what they need. (Man vs. Nature)
  • Could be: Government impeding a character's actions. (Man vs. Society)
*And these lists contain just simple examples. There are a plethora of conflict options for you out there (or in there--in your crazy writer's imagination!)

Something else to think about:

Okay, that's all for today folks :-) Stay tuned for more in this series down the road... There are lots of things to learn/review/think about regarding conflict!

♥ me


  1. Great lesson, Sara, and you're absolutely right!

    I love it that you're having so much fun with your new characters - keep at it, and keep sharing your progress! :-)

  2. Great post, Sara. Even though most writers would know this, I like being reminded, it's inspiring. I wonder sometimes when I post about craft if I might come across like I know something the rest of you don't, which I know isn't true. But I like to blog about it once in a while as a reminder and encouragement to me, and hopefully to others.

    I look forward to your next post in the series.

  3. This is an area I need to work on as well. Sometimes you need to act like a child and keep asking "why?" starting with the external goal.
    You really have to root out those internal goals and fears to understand to what lengths the character will go to achieve their external goals.

  4. I left you a little something on my blog. :)

  5. Ever thought about teaching?

    You broke this down so easily! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I'm in about the same place as you, good lady. My first novel has been percolating in my brain for the past few days, and the layers of conflict just keep getting deeper. Man vs. wife, vs. God, vs. society, vs. expectations, etc.... It's fun, but also a little intimidating.

    Thanks for the primer!

  7. Yay love the diagram that's awesome! This is what gives a novel resonance, I love it!

  8. Fantastic post. I've never seen internal and external conflict explained so succinctly. Thanks!

  9. I did the same thing before I wrote one word of my WIP. It really helped me to dive easily into my story without a lot of aimless writing and trying to figure out why the characters did certain things. Looking forward to the next post in the series:)

  10. I already finished my first draft of my WIP, but before I go through and do edits I'm creating character boards (and location boards) to highlight conflicts and personality traits. That way as I'm editing and fine-tuning I can make sure everything is perfect. I am officially printing out this little diagram and sticking it to the top of the boards!

  11. Great, great post. And, I must say, I absolutely LOVE the new blog design. It's a keeper.

  12. Very true! It's always amazing how when you know what drives your characters, the plotting is a lot easier... they're going to do what they have to do!

  13. I just blogged about cardboard cut-outs myself a few weeks ago! We are all on the same page. I love how you broke it down. Your points made me reflect for all of my characters not just my main character. Nice job.

  14. It is always good to be reminded and I wish I had taken more time to do this before Nano last November! Great post!

  15. I think it's the internal conflict that I struggle with. I mean, obviously I know what my characters are thinking and what their motives are for certain things - but I don't always do a very good job of communicating this to the reader. It's tough to give your character depth - tougher than I ever thought. Thanks for the post - great advice!

  16. Conflict was one of my major problems with my manuscript after my agent read it the first time. I had plenty of internal conflict but it was pretty light on the external conflict until the end. It took a MAJOR rewrite to make it right, but now I think I have a better understanding of conflict and how it should work in the story.

  17. I love this post! Conflict is why we all love fiction!! Where in Northern VA do you live?? I'm in Manassas!!

  18. Very nice post. It's a very organized way to look at it, and I'll definitely have to do it for the next manuscript. I must admit, I don't do anything in such an organized manner--my organizational skills are pretty much nil, but I may attempt to map it out like this for the editing of my latest manuscript and see if I can make sense of some things! Thanks for the lovely lesson, sweets!

  19. You explained that really well!

    SO happy I found another writer in the blogging world :-)

    I'll be checking back for your updates.

  20. Conflict is such fun! I love tormenting my poor characters. You're so right - a great novel needs both external and internal conflict. Adds so much to the flow and the fun of the book!

  21. Bravo! Very good post. Conflict is KEY.

  22. Great overview and I agree. Knowing the internal and external conflicts and motivations of my characters before I put pen to page (or fingers to keys) makes all the difference. They have to be 3d in my head before I can make them that way in a story.

  23. Great post- I did this to some extent with my first MS but am really digging into it more with the second. Look forward to the rest in the series!

  24. a great novel needs both external and internal conflict. Adds so much to the flow and the fun of the book!

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Yay! I love when you have things to add :)