Thursday, November 5, 2009

Internal vs. External Conflicts

Elana talked about consequences on her blog yesterday. More accurately, the consequences the main character must face.

The question: What does the MC have to lose if they can't overcome Conflict A, B, or C?

Whoa, deep question, which prompted a quite lengthy answer on my part (after I rolled my eyes at the title of her post - sorry, Elana, it was an instinctive reaction . . . and you knew it was going to happen), which prompted this blog post. So, woo-hoo to Elana for inspiring me once again!!!

Part of my response . . .

What is the loss, and what is the importance of the loss to the character?If it's an internal struggle, will the loss create greater consequences somewhere down the road for the character . . . well after 'the end'.

If it's something external - home, job, wife, kids - well, that's easier to write about.

Can an internal struggle be maintained? Can the reader sympathize? Would a reader want to sympathize?

I normally write about internal struggles (well, conflicts) versus external. Many times, at least in my own personal experience, the struggles a person faces in life are truly internal. There is not the loss of a home, a job, a wife or a kid, but rather the loss of happiness, the loss of independence, the loss of self, and so many other things.

So, picture it - Character E is in a bad relationship, somewhat content in his misery, and not sure he wants to risk leaving the relationship, for fear he'll end up alone. Isn't a bad relationship better then no relationship?

With this instance, the struggle is totally internal, but there is still loss, because I think the character sacrifices something of himself to stay in the bad relationship, to exist in misery, rather than going out and risking loneliness.

So, picture it - Character A has a great life - good job, house, car, loving family. He suddenly discovers a horrible secret about two of the people he loves the most. His goal: protect that secret, even if it means destroying himself in the process. What does he have to lose? Well, the two people he loves the most because if the secret is revealed, the consequences to those two people will be harsh. He will do anything, anything, to protect them.

So, again, the main loss is internal, but there is a potential external loss if he can't overcome the main conflict of keeping the secret, well, secret.

So, are the consequences in your story internal or external? If internal, how do you sustain the story when there is not the loss of . . . job, home, car, wife, kids, family dog, whatever? Is writing about internal struggles harder than writing about external struggles? Lastly, did you roll your eyes when you read the title of Elana's post?? Ha!



Robyn Campbell said...

Scott, interesting stuff. Rolled my eyes? Pshaw! :)

In my MG novel the struggles were internal and external. They are lost in the mountains with only their horses and their wits. And they're 13.

In my new WIP, it's a different kind of story. It's YA.

The character looses his mother to a drug overdose, but she has never taken drugs. So now he knows there is a murder. His internal loss is hard to write about. Emotional and all. And I risk adding too much. There's a balance. But internal is harder and what I usually write about too. External comes later. In the editing phase I will try and add external for a balance.

Nice post, my pal and friend. :)

ElanaJ said...

Okay, fine. My new quest is to come up with pithy blog title. Sheesh!

And I think the best fiction incorporates both internal and external conflicts. Everyone goes through internal things, no matter if they seem to have the world on a platter. It is the FEAR of losing that golden platter of stuff that drives some people. Or makes them choose the things they do. And that's great internal conflict.

Sometimes I make my character experience an external loss as a catalyst for them to examine themselves internally.

So it can work both ways, I think. Either way, you've gotta have something worth losing in order to create good stories.

Scott said...

Robyn - thanks for the comment and your thoughts. Much appreciated.

Elana - your titles are fine. You're the one who told people to quit rolling their eyes . . . I just rolled (get it) with that comment! Ha! I agree with your thoughts on the whole external/internal thingy. I think with my one project, for the most part, it's majorily internal - yes, there is loss to be found in the decisions the characters make, but the journey for those characters is purely internal as they come to terms with a) who they are, b) what they think defines them and c) the ability to move past the ideals of society to find their own identity. : )

I do think it's easier to write about an external loss, rather than a redefinition of a person and having said person walk away from their comfort zone. Perhaps I should try that in my next project.

Good luck with coming up with pithy blog titles. : )