Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How Much Internal Conflict Do Your Characters Need?

I have to say, your critique partners really do have your best interests in mind when they give you feedback. They want you to succeed. With that said, I do believe that some of the advice you may have been given is sometimes misleading. The end result is often the development of characters that your readers simply cannot relate to. Most of this stems with the issue of internal conflict.

For most writers, they fully understand what makes their characters tick. They know what dirves them and they know what motivates them. The problem, all to often, is getting that concept down on a piece of paper for your readers to get. Now here is where that advice from the critique partner tends to play havoc on your writing. When your characters do something, they want to know "the reason why!" What is it that is making your character do this? And then comes the big mistake... "What happened in their earlier life that would make the character this way?"

Now, as a writer, you tend to forget your real motivations for your characters, Now you start to "add stuff." You start to add past issues, drama, scenarios and so forth to provide your readers a "reason for that action." Although this is not always bad, in the real world, people don't always have huge pieces of drama that have causes us to do things.

Let me explain it this way...

If your character is in the business world, their rationale for not having a relationship with an employee does not have to come from the fact that their father ruined the marriage because of an affair. There doesn't have to be a situation where the heroine was abused in a relationship. A character didn't have to be fired from a prior job due to an inappropriate relationship.

It can simply be because there is a common belief in the business world that office relationships are not good.

What about the heroine who is concerned about having sex on the first date? Guess what? Keeping it simple is fine. There doesn't have to be a prior husband, abusive boyfriend, situation in college with date rape, diseases, aliens and so forth. The person can simply be raised that way. And no, when I say raised that way, you don't have to create a family that makes the mother of Carrie look good or the family in Footloose look like a bunch of liberals. It can just be that way.

But how do you get that point across to the reader? The answer is simple. Just make the characters say something along those lines.

"Drake Hearthrob looked at the amazingly sexy redhead across the conference hall at the National Association of Stud Muffin Lawyers Conference. Wow, she was amazing, but he knew mixing business with pleasure would never be a good idea. That's just the way it was in the business world. Now, if she wasn't a lawyer then things could be different." And then we find out she was in the wrong hotel conference hall and they lived happily ever after.

Now that wasn't that hard, was it?



  1. Over explaining everything is a great way to kill tension and mystery too. If the TV show LOST taught us anything it's that people will continue to be enthralled/disgusted/obsessed with story lines that keep us in the dark :)

  2. I'm guessing you've been seeing a lot of overdone back-stories lately? And/or they're getting too predictable?

  3. I agree. I'd rather rely on an in-built set of values for the hero/heroine reactions than the past from hell.