Tag Archive: internal conflict

How to Straighten Your Story’s Spine

Sometimes I write a story where lots of exciting stuff happens, my protagonist is proactive and has a goal, and I’m hitting all the right beats (if you don’t know what those are, check out this post on the 15 Story Beats), yet the story still feels flat. What’s wrong? What am I missing?

The truth of the matter is often I’m not missing anything. I spend a lot of time developing my stories and I know all the story parts that I need to make a story sing, but effectively implementing those parts into a manuscript is a whole other challenge. In a manuscript, those parts can get out of whack or lost or muddy. So how do you fix it?

By doing something we screenwriters often call “tracking the story’s spine.” A story’s spine is the character arc woven into the plot; the two should always go together just like your vertebrae and your spinal cord. Tracking a story’s spine means making sure the protagonist’s transformation (arc) is addressed in EVERY SCENE of the journey (plot). Because after all, as I’ve said before (specifically in this post about character journeys), every story is about change.

So let’s get started…

To track a story’s spine, you need to know these 3 Basic Story Parts:

  1. What’s the Character Change?

  2. What’s the Inner Conflict?

  3. What’s the Big Story Question?

Part 1: In order to have a character arc, the protagonist needs to change. They have to start out one way (flawed and not the best person they could be) and end up another (flaw overcome and better because of the journey – that is if the story follows a positive arc; negative arcs are the opposite). For example, in my WIP the heroine starts out doing bad things like using people to try to get ahead. By the end of the story she needs to change into someone who doesn’t do bad things to succeed.

Part 2: Because of their character flaw, the protagonist will have an Inner Conflict. For a detailed explanation of what that is, read this post. In general, Inner Conflict is a desire for two things the hero wants (one of which is their outer Goal), but the catch is the hero can’t have both. So the whole story the protagonist must constantly choose between these two wants. Back to my WIP example, the heroine wants to be a better person (stop doing bad things like using people) but also wants a better life (her Goal is to escape the cycle of poverty by getting a college scholarship), yet she believes she needs to do bad things to achieve that. So yeah, she’s conflicted.

Part 3: The Big Story Question is the will/won’t issue based on the Inner Conflict. Basically, in my story the question is: Will the heroine get a better life? The writer must make the protagonist face that question in every scene, and alternate between scenes that make us and the protagonist think they WILL succeed, followed by scenes that make us think they WON’T. And this question always pivots on the protagonist’s Inner Conflict.

Not lining up the story’s spine is an easy blunder for writers to make, mainly because though we may KNOW the character’s arc, we don’t SHOW it in the plot. Note that I said “show” it, not “tell” it. You can’t solve this problem with internal monologue alone. The character transformation (arc) must manifest itself through actions (plot).

In conclusion, to straighten your story’s spine, check each scene for these 3 things and make adjustments accordingly:

#1 – Change. How does this scene influence your character’s arc? It can be a step forward or a step back, as long as something changes.

#2 – Inner Conflict. Which “want” is your hero leaning towards in this scene? Make sure to alternate this from scene to scene. After all, a hero who favours one desire over the other isn’t very conflicted.

#3 – Big Story Question. Does this scene ask the big, overall question? If not, your story has probably veered off course. Either cut the scene or revise it to make it relevant.

You can test your own manuscript, or a book you’re reading. I bet a million smiley face emojis that books that aren’t very engaging don’t have straight spines! Let me know in the comments what you find out. 🙂 Now I’m off to straighten my story’s spine…

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/how-to-straighten-your-storys-spine/

I is for Internal Conflict

BLAST_IA couple letters ago, I talked about External Conflict – all those forces in the universe that are bumping up against the protagonist. Now we’ll discuss Internal Conflict – the sometimes black hole of doubt within the hero. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict must get in the way of the hero achieving his goal. Most importantly, Internal Conflict forces the hero to make hard choices.

3 Tips for Writing Internal Conflict

  • Find your hero’s flaw. Inner conflict often arises from a character flaw. This is common in superhero stories where the hero has a powerful ability he can’t always control. So he’s always conflicted about using this power to achieve his goal, weighing how much it can help versus how much it can hurt. 

  • Use your hero’s fear. Fears make great internal conflicts, and can be anything from a fear of heights to a fear of failure, as long as this fear makes it difficult for the hero to achieve his goal.

  • Challenge your hero’s morality. Characters with beliefs that counteract their goals are always interesting to read! War stories and crime dramas often feature heroes that are morally at odds with their situation.

2 Examples

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe features a character brimming with internal conflict. First of all, she’s a recovering drug addict, and this daily struggle affects every aspect of the story. Second, her and her dead best friend share a secret that causes her a lot of emotional pain. Third, her attraction to her dead friend’s brother gives her all kinds of conflicting feelings. A character so full of flaws, fears and confused morality makes for a great read!

HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller has a fascinating protagonist fighting to maintain his moral standards at a school for psychopaths. Now that’s some powerful inner and outer conflict!

1 Link for more help

Since Inner Conflict is the basis of a great character arc, here’s a post on How To Create A Character Arc using what we talked about in this post: flaws, secrets, fears and morals.

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Hero

Coming up:

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/i-is-for-internal-conflict/