Friday, March 4, 2022

Writing an Un-Put-Downable Character Part 2: Conflict

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

Is there anything better in a story than a great character? I don’t think so, but I could be biased. I LOVE characters. I will remember a well-designed character long after I’ve forgotten the story they’re in. 

But do great characters just happen? Are they an accident? A lucky spin of the wheel? Not at all. Like anything else excellent in life, a great character requires intentional design. I love creating characters using a ten-step system to flesh them out and make them un-put-downable.

Last month we talked about Personality. This month we’re going to talk CONFLICT. 

Oh, Conflict. Beloved, Conflict. Without you, story cannot exist!

Conflict is story, my friends. If you’re trying to write a novel without first establishing an engaging variety of conflict, you’re not going to get very far. 

Conflict in plot is pretty straightforward: 

Something always goes wrong. Judy needs tomatoes for her casserole, and the grocery store has none. Harold is late to work, and there’s a traffic jam on the highway. Bob’s superpower is rendered null in the presence of sugar, and he’s trapped in a candy factory. 

Conflict in plot = Something goes wrong. 

What the story needs to resolve is impossible or unavailable or very difficult to achieve.

But did you realize that characters need conflict too? 

Conflict is a part of life. 

We all get it. Anyone who has to pay taxes understands that. But conflict shows up in two different ways in life: External and Internal.

External conflict is the problem in the story. 

It’s Judy needing non-existent tomatoes. It’s Harold who’s going to be late to work. It’s our poor unfortunate Bob the superhero who can’t stomach sugar.

Those are all examples of an external problem causing conflict for your characters. But if you want a truly memorable protagonist (or antagonist, for that matter), you need to create an internal conflict for them to conquer. 

External conflict is what happens outside your character. 

Internal conflict is something that happens inside them. 

It’s how their own desires or beliefs drive the story forward.

Why does Judy need tomatoes? What is it about this casserole that is so important she must acquire tomatoes at all costs? Maybe Judy hates cooking, but she’s trying to make a meal for her best friend. She hates to cook, but she feels like it’s the only way to demonstrate how much she cares. That’s internal conflict.

Why is Harold running late to work? Sure, he could be bad at time management. But what if he’s bad with directions, and he always gets lost whenever he leaves his home? He knows he needs to get to work on time if he’s going to keep his job, but he has to face the fear of being lost every time he walks out his door. That’s internal conflict.

And what about Bob? Poor Bob the superhero. Candy may be what takes away his powers, but what about his motivation? If he knows that candy is his weakness, why would he go into a candy factory? It could be that the villain kidnapped someone and is threatening to drown them in a vat of corn syrup. Bob knows he’ll be weak and that he’ll probably fail as a result of it, but he goes anyway. That’s what heroes do. They stand up against their own fears, weaknesses, and challenges in order to do the right thing.

Obviously these three examples are quite silly, but you get the idea. You must have an external conflict (plot problem) in your story, but to craft a well-rounded, memorable character, you need an internal conflict as well. 

  • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet holds on to her pride in the face of her family’s ridiculous and offensive behavior. 
  • In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker surrenders to the Dark Side of the Force in order to save others, sacrificing himself and losing the people he loves at the same time.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow) goes against his nature to save his friends at the cost of his own life. 

Introducing internal conflict deepens your story and makes your characters much richer. 

This gives you the opportunity as a writer to make your story about more than just what’s on the surface. Your external story arc is the plot structure. Your internal story arc is the growth your character experiences as a result.

Developing internal conflict for a character begins with understanding his or her personality <link to last month’s post>. If you have a character who is introverted, force them into a situation where they must speak out or stand up in front of people they don’t know. If your character is a peacemaker, put them in a situation where they must be aggressive. 

Internal and external conflict are amazing resources you can use to tell a story that resonates with your readers. A great story is more than just what happens to a character; the best stories are about why it matters. 

Just so you know, here’s our road map for these ten steps toward character development: 
  • Personality 
  • Conflict 
  • Contradictions 
  • History 
  • Interests 
  • Language 
  • Internalization 
  • Dreams 
  • Observables 
  • Growth

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Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post with great advice, AC. I loved the examples.