All Hail Internal Conflict – A Long Muddled Post In My Usual Rambling Way

Am I mad? Quite possibly. You see, the thing is, *whispers* I love internal conflict.

There, I’ve said it. I know, I know, it’s something that’s terribly difficult to get right and is the bugbear of many a wannabe writer, me included, but I. Love. It. Which is partly why writing for M&B is something I particularly want to do because their stories are driven by internal conflict. Not car chases and guns. Not bombs. Not even star-crossed lovers kept apart by their families. Just two people who are perfect for each other but have to change themsevles in order to get their HEA. And what could be more emotional than that? What could be more difficult than changing yourself?

Anyway, I fully admit that for all my love of internal conflict, I have yet to get this sucker right. Now the main problem (for me) is that the conflict required for M&B needs to be simple and yet deep. Kate Walker has lots of really good advice about this so get along to her site to read about it but I have to confess it’s this simplicity that has been eluding me for a while now.

Why? Well, my history of writing romance is twenty years of writing for my own pleasure. The last romance I wrote that wasn’t for M&B was 300k. Yes, you heard that right, 300k. I didn’t plot, I pantsed the whole thing, just chucking in whatever was going to make my characters suffer the most. Especially the hero because a tortured hero is my favourite thing in the world. So of course there wasn’t just one simple conflict, there were many, many conflicts. It was awesome. But nowhere, on this planet, would this book have been published, least of all by M&B. However, it was ALL internally conflict driven which was great training, but was it simple? Give you three guesses…;-)

I do not do simplicity. I tend to chuck in lots of conflict strands to up the tension and the angst. So, say my hero’s internal conflict is that his parents had a messy divorce and he was used as a pawn by both of them to hurt each other. As a consequence he might feel like he’s not good enough for love, guilt at letting himself be used, betrayed by people who are supposed to love him, etc, etc. All good stuff but I find myself trying to explore ALL of those emotions at once. Which complicates it. Because guilt might make you act in a certain way, anger might make you act in another, betrayal a third. Now, because you only have 50k in an M&B romance, you just can’t explore ALL of them and the consequences (hear that Jackie??). You have to choose ONE.

*gets out the flow chart*

He feels guilty for letting himself be used —-> which leads to him vow that no one will ever use him like that again —-> which makes him decide that he needs to stay in control of his life and himself —-> He MUST have control in order to feel good about himself.

There you go. Pretty clear what kind of thing his character needs to learn eh? Now, say this is a Jackie ms.

He feels guilty for letting himself be used. Also that’s he’s unworthy. And also betrayed. —> which leads him to vow that he won’t be used again (adds girl who used his bad boy image to annoy her parents), no one will make him feel unworthy again (adds teacher who told him he was useless), and people who are supposed to love you suck (add divorce) —> which makes him decide he needs to stay in control, he IS the best, and he won’t fall in love —> He MUST have control, he MUST be successful and love is for suckers.

Not so clear right? He has to learn not just to give up his control, but also that success isn’t everything and people who love you won’t betray you. All okay but not in 50k (there are also layers in which case anger might be a layer but I won’t mention that since it’s complicated enough as it is!).

So, how do I keep it simple? I make sure I decide my conflict first and then settle on ONE way that conflict might make my character feel, how that ONE way impacts on the way he lives his life and what he needs to do in order to resolve it. And I write that at the top of each ms to help me keep on track and to stop myself adding any more conflict strands.

Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy.

BTW, there is a movie that is great for considering the layers of conflict – Inception. It’s kind of like internal conflict made external. Awesome.

Anyway, how do you feel about internal conflict? Hard? Easy? Put it up against the wall and shoot it?

19 thoughts on “All Hail Internal Conflict – A Long Muddled Post In My Usual Rambling Way”

  1. I stand here, offering you hope. And chocolate. And vodka. Well, kind of.

    I don’t know that it gets easy…but it gets easier. For me, the big challenge is exploring it as deeply as I need to, but actually finding the internal conflict has become much easier.

    But I try to approach my MSs by creating characters first. Maybe second. I try theme, then characters with their conflicts, then plot.

    Make sense? No? Drink the vodka then read it again. 😉

  2. Your joking right? Between you and Maisey I’m surrounded by mad women!
    I’ve watched it three times and still can’t work out what actually happened. Same with Shutter Island. Same with entire b****y series of Lost.
    Somewhere along this line, all these screenwriters (who incidentally hadn’t read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!!)got out the ‘wacky baccy’ and just started smoking it.
    There is no other reasonable, rational explanation for it. Period.
    Internal Conflict, now that’s another thing entirely, I love it too, and no, I can’t get it right either!

  3. Maisey – yeah, it’s getting easier actually. Now I kind of think I’ve got to the point where I’ve got a handle on it. At least, realising the mistakes I’ve been making has been a BIG thing.
    *drinks vodka*. Yep, it all makes sense now…hehe…

    Susan – Lol!! I have to say, I thought Inception was awesome. No idea what was happening either but I liked it all the same. Haven’t seen Shutter Island but clearly I need to. 🙂 Bring on the wacky baccy I say!

  4. I agree that the internal conflicts are the most interesting. Plot without any internal conflict often reads a bit flat. It can work on screen because it’s so visual, but even there it’s improved by the emotional meaning behind the events.

    Good to know that vodka improves writing. *pours a shot*

  5. i like internal conflict too, it’s wanting to explore it and complicate it that gets me. Just like you!
    With the easy flow chart i do the same, then think, but no he’d feel like that too because of this.., and then i’m all complicated again!
    Have to remember not to add the ‘this’ and have the other feeling as a layer.
    It is HARD! Can’t wait to hear to what SYTYCW think of my chapter and synop though!

  6. Julia – I find plots without the internal conflict aren’t as emotional and not particularly gripping. But I can see why that kind of thing on screen is hard to get across. Oh and vodka? Definitely. 🙂

    Kerrin – yay, another overcomplicator!! It’s sooo annoying isn’t it? And yes! It’s like, he’d feel this way AND this way wouldn’t he? And what about this too? Argh. That’s why I do something like those flow charts to get it all straight and keep myself of track. And that’s not even considering the layers! Hard is right. But yeah, SYTYCW is going to be interesting eh? Good luck and keep us posted!

    Lacey – yay! Join the madness! But I don’t think internal conflict loves me either. 🙁

  7. “Anyway, how do you feel about internal conflict? Hard? Easy? Put it up against the wall and shoot it?”

    Yes, yes, and yes . . .depending on how my day is going.

    Hey! Who moved my vodka?


  8. Need…need…the shot of vodka! Reading a good story with a great internal conflict is so satisfying…but writing…what is this animal? The animal known as Internal Conflict!

    Pour me a shot please… Internal Conflict is going above my head level!!!

  9. Nas – *passes bottle* It’s a horrible animal, let me tell you. It’ll eat you alive. You have to get it simple but deep. Oh and if you’re writing for Riva, it can’t be too depressing either. *pours self another vodka*

  10. I feel your pain. My internal conflict sometimes ends up getting so angsty and convoluted that I forget the main point of the story is the romance 😉 Can I attack the gin instead of the vodka???

  11. Lucy – snap!! That’s exactly the same thing I get into as well. I love the angst so I try to add too much, make it way too complicated and totally forget the fact that these two are meant to fall in love! Bah. 🙂 Sure, got some gin around here somewhere. *rummages* *passes the gin*

  12. I’m joining the I-love-it-and-can’t-get-it-right club too 🙂 But you know what, you put that one example so simply that I think you DO have the understanding and I KNOW you can make it work!
    Have never even HEARD of Inception!

  13. Rach – ack, I don’t know, m’dear. Understanding and doing are two separate things but thanks for the faith sweetie! 🙂 Inception is awesome. Google it.

  14. I can come up with the conflicts but I find I keep trying to play psychologist and “cure” them instead of letting them work their way through it in the story – not good for the book I can tell you! So I need to concentrate on separating the writer from the therapist. I’m afraid vodka or gin just won’t cut it – it has to be bubbly (writers drink bubbly – therapists drink scotch) 8)

  15. Elissa – *passes bubbly* Yes, funny you should mention that because one thing the ed told me was that authors need to be like therapists to understand their characters and their conflict. Which is why it’s so damn difficult! And why the conflict needs to be kept simple. The hero in my example fixes himself essentially through dealing with the heroine. Not by her sitting him down and telling him what he needs to do, but when he tries to control her, she refuses to be controlled. And so he learns that if he wants her, he must let go his control. This is the choice he makes at the end. And he needs to have learned enough by this point to know that a) when he lets go control good things sometimes happen b)controlling the heroine never works c) she’s worth giving up the way his life has always worked until now and take that leap of faith into making a change. Like that movie: ‘you make me want to be a better man’. 😉
    So, not hard then. 😉

  16. I, too, am a lover of internal conflict when it’s done really well, which is not by me! At the moment I’m having a really hard time not turning the internal external. Yes, I know, that’s a talent all of my own!!

Comments are closed.