Thursday, January 18, 2007

Inner Conflict

So, I’ve done some research to try and understand the concept of inner conflict a little better. My main issue was whether or not you could – or should – have inner conflict independently of external conflict. It seems the two are more intertwined than I thought. Which, BTW, will make writing a little easier for me.

The Ottawa-Carlton District School Board English 4U Student Handbook says, “Inner conflict refers to emotional or analytical struggles a character has due to his values, his role in society, or the company he finds himself with. For example, Willy Loman cannot emotionally ignore his failure as a breadwinner, failure as a faithful husband, and his failure to bring up decent sons.”

Redchurch says, “The best advice I've read says that where you can, try to link the inner conflict with the external and interpersonal conflicts.” He also says, “Someone being forced to compromise their values of honesty is an inner conflict. But, it is externalized if they are forced to confront a corrupt police force, for example. Their inner conflict is smacking right up against something going on in the world. If it's just their inner conflict by itself, it's not as powerful as when some external factor or force creates conflict based around the character's inner values.”

Mary Casanova says, “We all struggle. We carry around inner conflict in the private places of our hearts where we search for our identity; we struggle with ego, pride, and jealousy; we cry out for love and yearn to be heard; and we try to listen to the small, still voice of God. The heart is a place of darkness and light, often in conflict with itself. It is from the heart that conflict originates and resolution emerges, and in the heart that change and personal growth occur.”

Caro Clarke says, “Conflict is opposing desires, mismatches, uncertainty, deadlines, pressures, incompatible goals, uneasiness, tension. We are all caught up in some of these conflicts every day. And, so should your characters. A convincing story has many conflicts built into it, layered and connected. The first layer is inside your characters. Once you know what these are, you can use them to make the conflicts between the characters more convincing and interesting.

“A character's inner conflict is not just being in two minds about something, not just being torn between obvious incompatibles (“I want to be a priest, and yet I love her”) but is about being in a new situation where old attitudes and habits war with and hinder the need for change. For instance, a man who drives himself to succeed because he doesn't want to be like his happy-go-lucky father is suddenly confronted with a situation where he isn't winning. Or an executive discovers that her ambition to be vice president of her company is being thwarted by her own self-doubt. This war inside each of your characters makes them act and react in complex ways.

“You show these internal conflicts not by means of internal dialogue (which is a cop-out and is dull), but by showing your characters responding to their own inner compulsions. She, for instance, decides to confront her own self-doubts by taking on a no-win project where the local people are opposing a development. She is determined to be hard-nosed, prove she's vice-president material. He is always confrontational, fearing that one minute of negotiation would be the first step to becoming a wimp like his father. You have a grade-A opposites-attract situation here, yet it is believable because we understand why each of them is acting the way they do, why they are foolishly stubborn, by it's important for each of them to win.

“A character's inner conflict can be between what he thinks he wants and what he really wants… Conflict must always be resolved, and every layer you create needs its closure. A satisfying and economical way of achieving this is to use one big knot to close two or more conflicts together in the same action or in a double whammy, where one leads ineluctably to the next.”

Finally, Michael Hauge says, “WHAT IS YOUR HERO'S DESIRE? What compelling goal does your hero HAVE to accomplish by the end of the movie, and why does he desperately want that? The answer to these questions will define your story concept, propel the plot forward, give the reader a specific outcome to root for and lead you deeper into the inner motivations of your character.

“WHAT TERRIFIES YOUR HERO? On the plot level, this question will force you to determine which obstacles the hero must face to achieve his objective -- what's at stake for him, what's he up against and which conflicts will give the story its necessary emotion? And on the level of character growth and theme, your hero's emotional fear will reveal his inner conflict: the wounds from his past, the identity he clings to, the risks he is desperate to avoid and the arc the story will lead him through as he finds his necessary emotional courage.”

Thanks everyone, for your comments, which basically said: “Just write already!” So, off I go.

Image courtesy of Magdalene Gluszek.


Rene said...

My computer went on the fritz yesterday and I couldn't comment. It was a brilliant piece of advise, clearing up the whole inner/external conflict and GMC, but I forgot it.

Just kidding.

I suggest you just write, go with what feels natural. My theory is to kick them when they're down. Always make it worse. I drive Melissa crazy with this. She pity's my people.

Anonymous said...

Thank Rene. Poor protagonists, eh? My luck I'll come back as one in my next life.

Rogue Novelist said...

Internal conflict...external conflict? Hmmm? Profound?

Yann Martel wrote in his novel Life of Pi, "All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, inexplicable ways."

Conflict yes!!! Results yes!!!

Holly Kennedy said...

I LOVE the sculpting piece pic you included with today's post. Beautiful. Now, back to writing and my deadline (argh!!) I enjoyed reading all the comments on conflict, btw...

Heather Harper said...

You do good reseaerch, Nienke. :)

And I love the picture you posted. Incredible. I want it.

ORION said...

Oh my! Another blog that I will be compelled to visit!
Aloha from Pat

Anonymous said...

novelist rogue: well put! I loved Life of Pi.
holly: I have a link to the source of the sculpture at the bottom of the post. It's awesome isn't it?
thx heather! Check out the link to the sculpture, for all I know it may be for sale...
hi Pat! Welcome to The Writing Life, I'll pop over to check yours out!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

To really simplify things, inner and outer conflict always affect each other. In most cases, I think the outer conflict CAUSES the inner conflict.

A man's daughter is kidnapped. What does he most fear? Losing her. What is his desire? To save her.

That said, try to avoid the gimmicky inner conflict like the hero has a fear of heights and where does he have to go to save his daughter? To the top of a mountain.

That kind of thing has been overdone, in my estimation, although I suppose any good writer could make it work.

And while Hauge is right about your hero having a goal, EVERY character needs one, even the most minor.

The grocery store clerk, for example, who may be in only one scene, has a goal also -- her feet hurt and she wants to go home. This inner goal will affect how she deals with your main character. And the goals of the other characters often conflict with the hero's goal.