Here it is July already and so I'm back again with another part of Tension and Conflict.
Hi from Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailgaymermartin.com
Most authors can name the two kinds of conflict talked about most in fiction, internal and external. Both of these are important to any novel, but don’t lose sight of two more that you may not have considered—inherent and extra-external conflict. These additional kinds of built-in conflict can add extra excitement to your fiction.
External conflict are those things outside the character. It includes two or more people whose needs or wants are in competition. It is the outside world pressing in on the character’s life and well-being.
John wants to purchase a bigger house to go with his new position.
John’s wife wants to save the money for emergency needs.
External conflict can also be one person with two opposing desires. What he or she wants means losing something else.
For example: John wants freedom, but he wants to marry.
Susan wants to be treated like a woman but wants equality in her career.
Often these external conflicts cause the character to look deeper inside their desires and to question themselves. Is this really what the character wants? Will it provide happiness?
The conflict then causes the character to weigh what is important in his life and make a choice. Conflicts often include choices.
No matter which kind of conflict—between two people or one person and himself—the elements of conflict mentioned in the last post are important to both.
Internal conflicts are those struggles inside a character. They fall into various categories, but they all have things in common. A character must make choices. He will either hang on to the status quo or let it go and take a chance so that his life can be fully actualized.
• Personal issues are common forms of internal conflict. A person brings from his past doubts, fears, disgrace, or internal turmoil that he can’t get beyond. It affects his behavior, personality, and choices. He’s held back from being a whole person because he drags this baggage along with him. He sticks with what he wants to be rather than what he could be.
One of these conflicts similar to the one above is a character with two opposing desires, but the desires affect his moral conduct. He wants to steal the money, but he knows it’s wrong. He wants his freedom, but he has vowed to be faithful to his wife and family.
• Form of protection is another type of internal conflict. A character holds on to a flaw or personal issue to protect himself against harm, losing his reputation, exposing the truth about himself or someone he loves. It is the struggle between doing the right thing or clinging to the problem to cover the truth. Jeff Gerke in his download titled How To Find Your Story on Marcher Lord Press describes this problem as a character’s tumor or knot. Either term refers to a character’s major flaw. If the character can have the tumor removed, he will be healthy again, but if he allows it to stay inside him, he will be “sick.” Gerke lists many examples of tumors that the character can cling to: guilt, anger over loss, self-centeredness, fear of cowardice or weakness, temper, addiction (sex, drugs, alcohol), greed, doubt or disbelief, phobias, lack of faith, fear of commitment (to anything). A final way to look at conflict as a form of protection is: want vs need, self-loathing vs coverup, weakness vs desire for strength, or secret vs the truth.
• Delusion is another element that works in internal conflict. Sometimes a character doesn’t recognize his flaw. Since he can’t see it, he denies it, creating a multitude of conflict for himself or with others. Another kind of delusion involves the character who knows what he wants or who he wants to be, but the reader can see what is best for him and knows what he should do or be. This creates genuine conflict for the reader as well as for the character.
• Spiritual struggle relates to a person of faith whose behavior goes against her beliefs. The behavior can be from the past, leaving her frozen with fear of being unforgiven or unable to forgiven herself. It has to do with making choices with the question being what do I want to do and what does God want me to do. These struggles are common among people of faith, and it creates havoc, because faith is an important aspect of their lives. It is the road map and north star, in a sense, which guides them, and when they step off the path, they can become lost. Think of playing a sport without rules but with a life and death outcome.
Inherent Conflicts in Plot refer to elements such as setting and story setup.
• Setting usually to the location of the novel and the scenes (as well as the time of year, day, etc), but setting is also influenced by the characters’s distance in a relationships, bad memories brought to the setting, and dangerous environments. The setting can arouse emotion as the character struggles with what the setting brings to them and it can arouse questions for the reader.
Example from my novel Upon A Midnight Clear:
Callie regarded her surroundings as she slid the coat from her shoulders. She stood in a wide hallway graced by a broad, curved staircase and a sparkling crystal chandelier. An oriental carpet covered the floor, stretching the length of the entry. Two sets of double doors stood closed on the right, and on the left, three more French doors hid the rooms’ interiors, leaving Callie with a sense of foreboding. Were the doors holding something in? Or keeping something out?
In this example, you can see the conflict that’s created for the character as well as the reader. How will this setting affect this character’s life as she makes a decision to work in this home? What is going on in the lives of these characters that has create a sense of foreboding?
• Opponents were mentioned earlier, but when the story opens with characters who are connected in some way—siblings, spouses, employer/employee— and reflect different viewpoints on life or accepted behavior, or characters are introduced with opposing desires and wants, these conflicts become inherent to the plot.
Extra External Conflict is an element brought to light by Robert McKee, author of Story. This conflict tends to be visual—action, adventure, humor, or farce and in itself displays conflict in manner that can be seen. Think of Lucille Ball’s grape crushing scene or the candy packing scene.
• Action creating emotion. This can include prat fall, practical jokes, and other humorous elements as well as suspense scenes with a storm brewing outside and someone hiding in a room. It’s those tense moments when the audience screams in a movie. These are more difficult to create when it is in a novel, but it is possible.
• Action stressing conflict in form of an analogy This happens when the action of the scene becomes an analogy of what’s going on inside the character. McKee uses an example from the movie Kramer Vs. Kramer and the French toast scene. The husband has found a note from his wife that she is leaving him. His young son is crying over the situation. This is the external conflict. The man is trying to make French toast for the boy and hoping to waylay his fears that Dad can’t do the job, but he is failing. He has egg shells in the egg mixture, he’s spilling things and burning the food. This internal struggle is the man’s confident failing The visual picture of the mess that he has made is an analogy for the mess the man has made of his life. It is the extra external conflict of the story.
Using these forms of conflict in your novels by adding character flaws and forcing characters to make choices create pressure. Pressure results in tension, and the more the pressure builds, the more tension it creates. By adding more pressure and providing resistence, you will create greater tension and thus greater emotion.
Have you used some of the more unusal kinds of conflict? How did it help your novel?
© Gail Gaymer Martin 2014