In today’s episode, Anna and I talk about how conflict and motivation adds tension to a novel.
Almost every important character needs two types of conflict.
Character vs another character/nature/technology.
Character vs self.
Inner conflict is a vital aspect of storytelling because it creates empathy in the reader, which is one way of making the story compelling.
Outer stakes are related to the character’s goal whereas inner stakes equal a yearning. To create tension, the two should be in further conflict.
It can help to ask a question – what important decision does your character have to make?
All action or non-action has consequences and tension is created when a character has to make a difficult decision or choose between two unpleasant options.
The greater the stakes (what’s at risk), the greater the tension. The writer should aim for a reader to be left with questions after each scene.
The character has to take action in line with their motivation and that motivation needs to resonate with readers.
This makes sense but the difficulty comes putting it into action. For me, this is only something I think about in the editing process, which is where the larger part of my work is done.
Attaining the Impossible
The greater the war within the character, the more satisfying the story. One way of raising personal stakes is for the writer to ask how they can make the goal matter more and then show the resulting internal turmoil going on inside the character. This will make the reader identify with the conflict and care about the decisions that the character makes.
Another way of making the story stronger is by giving the character multiple conflicts weaved together with the internal and external conflicts of other characters. Sounds easy, I don’t think so!
Characters can have a wound that’s a source of inner conflict. This can be due to a traumatic event, such as the murder of their family or a sad early life that taught them not to trust. Another possibility is that the character wants something that they daren’t go after which results in something missing from the character’s life.
The character might have a blind spot created by the trauma and their goal, which prevent them meeting his or her need.
They may have a wound that causes the character to live in a fantasy world or fear relationships or avoid all conflict. They could be bitter or angry at the world or seek attention.
What does your character want?
What’s the opposite of what they want? What reason is there not to pursue their goal?
Your character cannot have both so, how does this became apparent?
Other ways of creating inner conflict: –
A powerful fear and desire to avoid confronting it.
The antagonist forces the character to face their fear.
The character might have a secret fear that they are ashamed of getting out or it could lead to them getting arrested.
They might have a flaw that leads to trouble.
Other sources of conflict
In the podcast, Anna came up with a number of life issues, such as, where to spend Christmas and the resulting dilemma about a cause of action, guilt or self-doubt.
What conflict are your character’s dealing with?