Conflict – the heart of a good story

Doesn’t that seem so sad? Our best stories are based on conflict. I laughed at Ron Benrey’s evident confusion that women love to read about other women’s angst. How horrible! How true! Most women’s fiction is about a woman + lots of horrible things + a great hero = a happy ending.

In Donald Maas workbook for Writing the Breakout Novel, chapter 3 discusses Inner Conflict. Ron Benrey referred to this too. Your characters have to WANT something. He/she has to have an internal and an external desire.

One of the key ways to do this if have a character want two very different, if not opposing things. In my work-in-progress, The Thornbearer, my character wants to help her mother, but it means returning to the place which houses the memories of her father’s abuse. My protagonist also has another conflict. She wants the freedom of loving and being loved, but can’t trust anyone enough to love him.

Another example: In the story Jane Eyre, Jane has several different things going on, both internally and externally. Her physical/external conflicts are her ‘station’ and the fact that dashing and roguish Edward Rochester is already married…eek! Her internal conflicts are her ‘inexperience’, her moral convictions and keeping to them despite Mr. Rochester’s advances, and her desire to be free of her past. I’m sure there are lots more, but those are a few. (Great book, btw, if you’ve never read it.) We won’t even delve into all the conflict going on inside of Edward Rochester.

Ron Benrey kept reminding aspiring writers to kick your protagonist in the first chapter and keep kicking him/her until the end of the story. Think of some of the worst things that can happen to your characters and…let them happen. What will your character do? Does it move your story forward? Does it bring out a side of your protagonist, or even your antagonist, that you didn’t even realize was there?

Donald Maas says, “Inner conflict is what makes a character truly memorable.”

Why do you remember the characters of your favorite books? What makes Scarlet O’Hara a ‘movie’ and literary icon? Why are we drawn to compelling Mr. Darcy and witty Elizabeth Bennet?

When you dissect those characters, it will help you realize the depth and hardwork involved in making a memorable character. Yes, hard work…but worth it.

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