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Write characters with internal conflict

Write characters with internal conflict Write characters with internal conflict
In this article:

    Internal conflict is a type of conflict in a narrative where a character is in conflict with themselves, and is usually contrasted to external conflict.  In broad terms, external conflict is the fight a character is having with a person, force, or thing outside of them, and internal conflict is the fight they have with themselves. Adding in internal conflict can be a great way to make external conflict feel bigger and to give your story more emotional weight. 

    Internal conflict occurs when a character struggles with their own internal desires, beliefs, and values. These conflicts usually emerge in response to or are highlighted by the external conflict, so the line between them isn’t hard and fast. 

    Here are some examples of internal conflict:

    • The character wants two opposing good things
    • The character is afraid of what they desire
    • The character is afraid of themselves/their own negative qualities
    • The character attains an end they’ve been striving for and doesn’t know what to do with themselves now that they’ve got it
    • The character has a fundamental belief about themselves that is blocking them from happiness
    • The character loses the thing they hung their self-worth on
    • The character believes a lie about themselves
    • And so on

    Which type of internal conflict you choose depends on the story you’re trying to tell and the characters you’ve built so far. Of this list, do any of these stand out as particularly interesting? What do you think is missing from this list? 

    Character backstory is a core component when you’re thinking about building out internal conflict. Try out our character worksheet to get a sense of your character’s personal history and contradictions. 

    Once you’ve got the general shape of your internal conflict nailed down, think about how you’re going to resolve it. The character who is afraid of themselves is going to have to confront the parts of themselves that they don’t like. The character who lost a pillar of their self worth is going to have to find a new one, etc. The internal conflict indicates how the character is going to have to change over the course of the narrative and determines the beginning point for their character arc. 

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