Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 6, 2010

Writing – Inner Conflict

There are two types of conflict, and both should be present in your novel.

External conflict is the depicted events the character encounters as obstacles during the course of the novel.

Internal conflict is the dilemma facing the character inside – the internal battle within a character and its impact on that character. Writers typically choose internal conflicts that arouse a universal emotion in people. It is the emotional fight inside a character; therefore, two equally strong opposites need to exist within the character. These opposites can be a mixture of clashing feelings like anger, hatred, and love, and incompatible goals, desires, uncertainty, pressure, uneasiness, etc. An inner conflict may also be between what a character wants and what he thinks he wants.

So give your characters the weaknesses, imperfections, quirks, vices and strengths inside them to build their inner conflict; they humanize a character. The audience can identify with them.These things will push the plot forward, and they humanize your character, so that the readers can empathize with him.  Plus, they cause the tension to stay high and keep the conflict going.  A strong internal conflict can make a good story great.

Since character growth is essential, sit down and decide what will drive your character to change.  It should be complex and specific to that character, logical and motivated, and of consequence.  This does not happen in one scene or with one incident, it usually happens throughout the novel. Cause and effect, action and reaction play key roles in fostering change and in facilitating conflict.

It’s important to note that a character typically has multiple conflicts to resolve. Most inner conflicts are the outcomes of a character’s misunderstanding of his self. Goals change during the course of the novel. New information or insight alters motivations and goals and lead to new conflicts and new potential solutions.


No misunderstandings

No convoluted logic for convenience sake

No insignificant roots.

This is important: If a conflict is introduced in a story, it has to be resolved. Readers expect that from the writers, and if any conflict–internal or external– is not resolved, readers will feel cheated. Whether an inner conflict is subtle, breathtaking, or heartbreaking, it must be psychologically convincing to the reader.

Beware: Don’t limit the expression of inner conflict to the internal dialogue. Internal dialogue can be useful, but don’t use it as your only means to show inner conflict.  That can end up being inadequate and cause your story to be dull. The best way to show inner conflict is to attach it to the external, interpersonal conflicts and circumstances, then let the character take action based on his inner urges.

What have you used to create inner conflict?

Talk tomorrow,



  1. thanks, kathy~always a fantastic post =)


  2. This is really great! I’m currently working on putting a little more internal conflict into my second draft, so this is timely advice. Thanks!


  3. Thanks, this was a big help!


  4. I was more looking for tips to describe inner conflict. Are there bad and better ways to do this?


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