Emotional conflict should be broken down into two subcategories - “external” and “internal”. A good book needs a little of both - but don’t count on it. Some genres such as Women’s Fiction focus more on the heroine’s internal conflict and character growth. They often move at a slower pace as the reader peels back layers in search of resolution. Suspense/Thrillers sink the reader deep into external conflict with page turning action that never lets up. We might remain on the edge of our seats as the characters go from one adventurous scene to the next but never know what makes them tick
I’m the kind of reader who prefers a little of both. I especially enjoy Romantic Suspense or Paranormal Suspense because they typically feature characters struggling to build a relationship while battling external forces.
When I first started attending writer’s groups, everyone assumed I knew the three building blocks of good fiction – Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I didn’t. Let me rephrase…I thought I did but I didn’t. I knew I wanted to write; I was pretty sure I had the talent and tenacity to succeed. After spending two years immersed in one workshop after another, I began to realize how ignorant I must have appeared. Ignorance is not a bad word as some people think. It means “without knowledge”. I was ignorant, but eager and willing to be educated.
So for the benefit of those readers who might not have learned the definition of internal and external conflict, allow me to share a little knowledge.
Internal Conflict is the emotional/mental struggles going on within a character. For example, I’ll use a popular movie/book series, “Twilight”. Bella is conflicted about who to choose for her boyfriend, Edward or Jacob. She leans on Jacob and tries to build a relationship with him but an internal argument rages inside. Her heart belongs to Edward. Bella’s not the only one experiencing internal conflict. Edward loves Bella but realizes he’s put her in danger. He shoves aside his own feelings to protect her and is miserable because of it. When Edward and Bella reunite, it is now Jacob with the internal conflict. He loves Bella and feels he can do a better job of protecting her than Edward.
External Conflict is the outside influence opposing the characters. There are many examples in “Twilight” so I’ll just tap into a few. Edward’s family trying to decide if they should accept Bella into their group, the other vampires lust for Bella’s blood, the vampires versus the werewolves, Bella’s abrupt move to live with her father and starting over at a new school. Each one of these applies stress to our character’s lives, which in turn springboards to internal conflict.
To put it simply, conflict is what attracts a reader to a story. Searching for the resolution is what keeps them turning pages. The more pain and anguish suffered by the characters, the sweeter the resolution.
What's one of the best examples of character conflict you’ve read, and how was it resolved?