Utilize both internal and external conflicts

All stories center on conflict; arguably, the whole point of a story is to resolve some type of conflict. One way of thinking about conflict is to divide it into categories – internal and external.

Internal conflict involves a character struggling with his own thoughts and emotions. The story focuses on what decision he will make. For example, a character dealing with crushing personal guilt for a bad, injurious choice he made faces an internal conflict. This conflict often is referred to as man vs. himself.

External conflict centers on a character grappling with forces outside of his own mind and feelings. Such a character might oppose the values of society, battle another person, attempt to survive Mother Nature, or in ancient literature disagree with the gods. The tale essentially is about how the character will overcome those challenges.

Quality stories rarely only have an internal or an external conflict. While one of them might be the book’s focus, usually they work in tandem. Indeed, often an internal conflict comes about because some external conflict has occurred. Perhaps in the story about the character with crushing personal guilt, in the opening chapter he finds a victim of a crime that parallels one of his victims. While in the rest of the novel the solving of the crime he discovered may take a back seat to his internal struggle, the discovery of its victim sets in motion the story by making his guilt so unbearable that he must atone for it so his world right. Of course, the crime that opened the story also must be resolved by story’s end for the reader’s sake.