Characters, as I’m sure you know, need to have different dimensions to their personalities. This is what is meant when professors or authors say that characters should be round rather than flat. One of the things that makes characters more rounded and interesting is to give them conflict. Yes, inner conflict is a great tool to use when you’re writing. Everyone (well, almost everyone) enjoys a character who is plagued by inner turmoil of some kind. But sometimes that can become old as a writing trope. If you write about a character who spends a lot of his time moaning about an old battle he took place in, or a girlfriend who left him long ago, then readers may get bored.
To break the boredom of your reader, it can help to introduce an external conflict for your character to contend with. While they’re moaning about their long lost girlfriend, you could add in something like a shark attack for him to escape from. Or perhaps someone is just giving him a hard time at the grocery store checkout line, which exacerbates his already unpleasant mood.
As always, I’ve turned to Mr. Chuck Wendig and his blog, Terrible Minds, for some advice on this matter. In his post, 25 Things a Great Character Needs, Chuck talks about this very concept. He says, “external conflict is pretty cool, too. If the character is plagued by an old war wound, a damaged spaceship, a mysterious old villain who shows up to perform surgical karate on the character, all good. Doubly good if the external conflict matches or speaks to the internal conflict in some way. Say, for instance, an author who is addicted to slathering his beard with illicit ermine scent glands is also pursued by a very angry ermine scent gland dealer named Vito who would apparently like his money. Just an example.”
I especially like what Chuck says here about matching your character’s internal conflict to their external conflict. If they have something that’s plaguing them internally, adding an outside element that somehow connects to that will only emphasize it more for your readers. Whatever you choose — internal or external — just remember that conflict is the core of any story, and it will help develop your characters and move along your plot. Happy writing!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan