Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Don't you hate conflict?

No one likes conflict, except, of course when it’s in a novel. Then those very things that make our stomach churn or head ache, can draw us in and take us to another world.

As we know each story should have Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

In its simplest forms, conflict is whatever stops our characters from achieving their goals. It doesn’t matter if it’s people, emotional issues, events or things, as long as it stops them from attaining that goal – then it’s a conflict.

In my story, I am Slayer, my heroine saves the lives of Christians. This is her goal. Her motivation? This is a calling, given to generations of her family, by God. The conflict comes from demons in the shape of vampires, and other evil creatures, which try and stop her.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well, to a certain extent it is. I’ve just outlined the book’s premise and shown you external, or physical, conflict.

Here’s the more difficult part. In order for Anastasia to become real to my readers, she needs to have internal, or emotional, conflict.

So what could internal, or emotional, conflict be? 

It needs to be something which can be sustained throughout the book. It also has to be something that comes from within the character. 

In my opening chapter, Anastasia searches for a group of Christians hiding in a bunker. She has to get there, and get them back to sanctuary before The Others find them. An external conflict arises, an argument, and they don’t escape in time. In the ensuing battle, she loses one of her charges, a little boy. He’s dragged off to parts unknown by The Others. Anastasia is devastated. Her confidence has taken a battering, and she is now scared to get close to anyone else. She doubts her ability to fulfil her calling. And this affects her decisions for the rest of the book.

Some may think that the internal conflict would be the argument Anastasia had, but it's not. Anything that could be solved with a few well-placed words, doesn't come under that category.

Internal conflicts come from our emotions; so feelings of abandonment, deep distrust of authority figures, a desperate need to fit in; these perceptions shape us and make us who we are. It’s the same with our characters.

Don’t be afraid to dig deep and find out what really makes your characters tick. What the driving force behind their behaviour is. That way you’ll not only make them more believable, you’ll add a depth to your characters that your readers will love.

Here’s an excerpt from I Am Slayer.

Donatella Sabatini was Lucien’s personal handmaid. She had delusional thoughts that Lucien loved her and would protect her from anything. Stupid girl. She irritated me on more than one level.

 ‘Still a servant, Donatella?’ I shook my head, knowing it would annoy her. ‘I have a pair of boots that need cleaning if you’re not busy.’

A low, ugly sound ripped from her throat. She advanced toward me but Lucien held up his hand for her to stop. Like him, she was dressed in ‘ye olde London style.’ 

On anyone else her dress might have been romantic, but the red and black bustier, full skirt and white puffy sleeves reminded me of a black widow spider.  

How apropos. 

‘Now, now, Anastasia,’ said Lucien. ‘Don’t be like that. You have something I want.’ He took two steps forward and plucked at the fingers of a white glove. ‘And I…’ He grinned and my blood chilled. ‘…have something you want. Perhaps we can trade?’

He snapped his fingers again, and the men behind him parted. 

A guard came forward; his bulging arms gripped a struggling figure. My heart plummeted, bile burned my throat, and I swallowed hard. The scene began to fade, and I struggled to clear my head. 

This couldn’t be happening. I kept my gaze neutral, uninterested, even as a silent scream echoed through my mind.


Lee Franklin lives on a small property in Western Australia, along with her husband, son, dogs and cows. She loves all things girly, suspense, pink (the colour not the singer), cold grey skies and the smell of rain. 


  1. Thanks Lee. Often the internal conflict inhibits the character's (and our own!) ability to deal with the external conflict, so there is a conflict conflict: a meta-conflict. :)

  2. 'Some may think that the internal conflict would be the argument Anastasia had, but it's not. Anything that could be solved with a few well-placed words, doesn't come under that category.'

    Great tip! If it's a misunderstanding, easily resolved by 'a few words' then it's not conflict.

    Thanks Lee. Wonderful helps here and a timely reminder for me to keep nutting out my character's motivations to sharpen my writing. :)

  3. Hi Peter,

    I love your idea of a meta-confict, you're exactly right. I'm sure we can all name areas of our lives where that very thing has happened.

    Thanks, Dorothy. Glad to be of a small help with your writing, not that you need it!

  4. Wow, the book sounds awesome, Lee! I think this emotional turmoil and conflict is THE vital component of characterization. I'm sure if we look carefully, we'd find that the stories in which characters seems to be lacking fall short in this very feature.

  5. Thanks, Paula, that's so sweet of you to say. You're so right, I prefer character-driven, rather than plot-driven stories. The depth adds a sweetness to the story, no matter what the genre.

  6. Thanks Lee for making my mind start ticking! I have not pondered at length about the point you raised - about internal conflict, since most of what I write is non fiction. I can see it is a very useful tip for later - when I plan to write a few novels too! Thanks for opening my mind. Great insight Lee!

  7. That is a helpful thing to remember. It reminds me of something similar I once read for those who want to write biographies: you need to discover the truth of the person...what makes them tick. One-dimensional characters don't fully engage us.

  8. I have to say that I completely forgot about the content of the blog after reading the exerpt. You have me hooked and wanting more. You have certainly created some conflict I'm this scene. And you are so right - conflict is important otherwise the story is boring. All the suspense is wraped up in the overcoming. Or as the teenagers in my life would say - drama, drama, drama!!!

  9. Ps- sorry about the typos. I blame these crazy tiny phone keyboards. Blah!!'

  10. I have had the honour of reading the first 2 chapters of 'I am Slayer' and I can say that Lee is amazing! I can't wait to see this novel finished :)

    I enjoyed this post Lee, even though I have no talent or desire to write fiction!

  11. Lee, your story sounds fascinating - thanks for sharing an excerpt :) I also prefer character driven stories with compelling conflict. I know I need to strengthen the emotional conflict when I edit the first draft of my current wip :)

  12. Anusha, next time you read a novel you'll be searching for that internal conflict!

    Yes, Debbie, that's a very true. So, I guess in that way fiction and biographies are very similar aren't they? We want the truth about the person.

    Rose,thank you for the lovely words. It's all about the drama isn't it? LOL

    Narelle're a great cheerleader, did you realise that? :)

    Narelle A...I love the nitty gritty of the second and third draft when it all comes together!

  13. In a writing book I have one chapter is, "is Conflict necessary?" Yes whether it be external or internal.
    Right now my main character Spencer is dealing with forgiving himself for something and not following God's calling. Soon the secret will become known and his girlfriend will feel betrayed because he isn't doing what God's told him to do.

    Conflict is important get our characters to their end point