Conflict is the struggle that grows out of the interplay of two opposing forces. It provides interest, suspense, and tension. (Handbook to Literature)
Internal Conflict vs. External Conflict
Person versus self is arguably the most important struggle within any character-based narrative. How the characters battle their own “demons,” drives a deeper struggle and exploration of what it means to be human, flawed, vulnerable and more. Coupled with internal struggle, are several external conflicts: person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. supernatural, person vs. setting, and so on. When the internal struggle of a character parallels the external struggle within a scene, the narrative can take on many layers.
Writing Conflict Exercise
Conflict is the foundation of a gripping narrative. For literary narratives, the most gripping conflict is not the external, but rather, the internal. Character vs. self.
Your narrative will include many conflicts of all types. In this revision, let’s focus on a central conflict that is important to the overall arc. First, identify what you feel is the main climax within the overall work. In this climax, which character is the main character, the protagonist?
Now, study the protagonist’s biggest challenge within this climactic scene. Is it external? A storm, an antagonist, a supernatural entity…? If so, how might this external conflict mirror the protagonist’s internal conflict? If your protagonist has a low self esteem, perhaps that external conflict could mirror this “lesser perspective of self.” If your protagonist has a disability, perhaps the external conflict challenges this disability and your protagonist’s understanding of self.
When revising conflict within the overall work or even a single scene, as single scenes can have their own individual conflicts, spend as much time on how this conflict exacerbates the main character’s internal conflicts with self, as it does the external conflicts. Look for ways that both might mirror and challenge each other.
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A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.
“Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.
The Elements of Style. William Strunk.
New Oxford American Dictionary. Edited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.
The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Martin Puchner, et al.
The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. Gideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.
Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.