Putting Characters into Conflict

In real life, I don’t like conflict. I don’t like arguing with people, I don’t like fighting and I don’t like confrontation. In fact, I actively avoid it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut when it comes to writing, there’s no getting around it. There has to be conflict. There has to be two opposing forces pulling against each other.

To create conflict in my stories, I have to hurt my character’s feelings, I have to put them in difficult situations, in physical and emotional danger. I have to be mean to them … I have to do all these things to make readers care about them.

So if conflict doesn’t come naturally to you, how do you put your characters in a conflict situation?

When I was doing my Professional Writing and Editing Diploma at Victoria University, author and teacher extraordinaire, Sherryl Clark said to us, “Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character, and make something even worse happen to them.”

And that’s exactly how you get to the depth of your character and who they are. How your character handles conflict affects what happens next in your story, and how readers relate to them.

So if you want conflict in your story, you need to know your characters, what they are fighting for, and who they are fighting against.

To create conflict, one character’s views and goals must collide with another character’s.

There are two kinds of conflict – external and internal – and you need them both in your story.

External conflict

External conflict is what happens outside your character and internal conflict is the struggle that goes on inside them.

External conflict is what makes your story exciting. It’s where the action in your story comes from. It’s the obstacles and events your character must overcome.

Internal conflict

Internal conflict is what enables the reader to feel like they know your character. Internal conflict is what makes the reader care about your character and what happens to them. It’s what makes the reader invest emotionally in your story.

Internal conflict can be the disparity between what a character thinks they want and what they really want. It can be caused by your character having to choose what’s right and wrong.

In forthcoming posts I’ll be blogging more about conflict.

2011becket_med-4I’ll also be presenting a workshop in Brisbane at the CYA Conference on 2nd July where I’ll be providing some practical tips on how to put your characters into conflict. Bookings for the conference can be made through the CYA website.

Look forward to seeing you there.

If you can’t make it, I look forward to seeing you back here at DeeScribe Writing.

Do you struggle being mean to your characters or are you one of those people who loves putting their characters in difficult situations? Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂




8 thoughts on “Putting Characters into Conflict

  1. Conflict was, and still is, the hardest thing for me to write. I hate hurting people, but we must mess our characters up to help them grow and mature. One of my characters told me once, “Go ahead, do your worst. I can take it.” Okay, then. Prepare for your upcoming hardship, dear character.

  2. He wasn’t thrilled when I did hit him with my best shot. “Okay, I did not see that coming. Now unwrite this.” Sorry, darling, can’t do that. What will you learn from this experience? “What, you want me to learn from my family putting a bounty on my head, my best friend disappearing God only knows where, and my crew abandoning me? Don’t you know I am only 20? That’s heavy stuff for a 20 year old. A little help here would be nice.”

    Someone said we learn best from our struggles. I have made this poor kid struggle, but what he’s shaping into is someone he and everyone else can be proud of.

    (His brothers and sisters sat up and took notice of this skirmish. They are a little leery when they encounter difficult situations now). Yes, my characters are real to me. I think that’s how they become real to others, too.

    Glad it made you smile.


  3. Fabulous Deb 🙂

    Sounds like you have things under control and that your character has benefited from your actions.

    I can see your characters are real to you.

    Thanks for sharing.


  4. I’ve been working very hard on my first book to ensure I had a balance between internal and external conflict. I struggle with it but I think I’m getting it!

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