Wednesday, December 31, 2014

External Conflict Can Also Be Internal Conflict

When we talk about conflict, we often use the terms external conflict and internal conflict. Obviously, the idea of external conflict refers to things getting in the way of the characters goals and plans that come from something other then the character itself. This could be something such as a company that is planning to over-throw the character's company, or even a natural disaster. Internal conflict, on the other hand, deals with the character having to come to grips with two different emotions or desires from within. These might be a struggle with how they were raised and a goal they want to achieve that goes against those thoughts.

In most cases, authors keep these two elements separate. The external once drives the plot of the story and provides action, while the internal conflict provides the emotional ride for the reader. But, a seasoned author can, though careful planning, blend these two elements together into one.

Let's consider the classic story of Romeo and Juliet. The external conflict in the story is the fighting between the Capulets and the Montegues. This is a fight that has been going on for some time and is certainly an issue with the two main characters. But here is where the internal conflict can come into play. The internal struggles Romeo and Juliet face is having to come to gripes with what they have learned about family and honor, while at the same time, trying to figure out how to deal with the teenage raging hormones. In this case, the external conflict IS the internal conflict.

One of my clients just faced this issue with her latest book which was also very similar to the Romeo and Juliet issue. She too had characters where the family dynamics were the external conflict, but in both cases with the hero and the heroine, they had to deal with the way they had been raised in their own individual families and countries. For her, blending the external and internal conflicts was clearly the best decision.

Now many authors make a tragic flaw with a story like this. Instead of making a single statement (probably no more than a paragraph) in the story to talk about that honor vs. love argument, they add a full extra story line in to create some other internal conflict in the story. The problem with doing something like this is the characters now have to deal with more problems than they need to. To add to this, suddenly the word count in your story is going to easily increase by another 20,000 - 30,000 words just to take care of the plot.

As you know, I am a firm believer in trying to keep things simple and focused. This comes from my love of poetry and certainly William Wordsworth. In the case of working that conflict into your stories, continue to work to streamline your writing and get things to do more than one thing in your story. Blending those conflicts is a great way to do that.

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