Went to a Great Writer’s Conference! Took Some Great Classes. Taught One on Internal Conflict (welcome to my notes). Oh, And Then There Was This Guy…
Characters are onions. The most interesting ones reveal themselves layer by layer right down to their naked core. Readers will follow these kinds of characters almost anywhere.
Internal conflict is a struggle a person has with himself. It’s usually seen in the form of fears, confusion, guilt, jealousy, etc. Internal Conflict is what makes a character come to life, and makes your reader keep turning pages. What can you learn from your favorite fictional character? What makes him/her your favorite? (I bet its conflict:))
The challenge for LDS writers and LDS fiction.
If you’re writing LDS fiction–how honest is your portrayal of conflict? How comfortable are you peeling away at your onion? How comfortable are you with what you find?
Are you telling the story in the right POV? Consider these two scenes:
It was my first date in 22 months and I don’t know what I was thinking. I was a divorced 34 y/o woman with three kids, a mortgage and a car with a sick fuel pump I couldn’t afford to replace. He was a 27 y/o flirt who made me laugh. He was interesting. I wasn’t. I was just lonely. Dangerously lonely. What was I thinking? And what the heck was that kiss supposed to mean?
It was early when I heard Mom come in; too early for her date to have gone well. She’d tried on every dress in her closet, then decided she hated her hair and washed it again which messed up her mascara. She hadn’t been nervous or anything—and now she was home before ten. When she didn’t come upstairs, I went down and found her sitting in the dark kitchen. She was crying, but she pretended she wasn’t. “Hey, sweets,” she said. “Did you finish your homework?”
“Did you have fun?” I said. She shook her head and lost a tear. “Not so much.”
Sometimes it’s easier (more comfortable) and more effective to use a POV other than your onion. Kids are especially fun because they don’t always know what they’re witnessing, their conclusions can be unreliable. A bonus is that your reader is privy to more than the narrator.
Internal Conflict is a peek into the workings of a character. What motivates them, what frightens them, who are they when they’re by themselves? Do they have any secrets? Are you up to it? Good! Let’s build a heroine.
Who is Lila Harrington?
Now write a paragraph about her.
A story is a delicate balance of plot, pacing and people. The setting has to be right. The writing has to be interesting. The characters have to be compelling. But we all know that lots of books have crummy plots and not every book published is written well. But readers tend to forgive that if they trust the characters. The difference between a character we would follow into the depths of hell vs. one we could care less about is called internal conflict—
It’s easier for screenwriters. Here are 3 examples of great, compelling, internal conflict in a lead character:
The Good Wife–Alecia Florrick.
16 Blocks—Jack Mosely.
Lily Owens—Secret Life of Bees.
The challenge of LDS Fiction:
How deep do you go?
How much honesty are you comfortable with.
Who could possibly be a more conflicted character than an LDS woman going thru a divorce?
If you are going to tackle an LDS themed story and tell it first person—you owe it to your story and your reader to tell it honestly—why??
Because if you want us readers to care about your protagonist—we have to trust that protagonist. And who cares about a woman who chooses a dork and then has to suffer the consequences of choosing the dork? Which brings me to a cardinal rule in fiction: Never weaken your protagonist by weakening of your antagonist.
I read a bad novel about an LDS marriage gone awry. He has an affair and is immediately evil incarnate. She is now the long suffering victim forced to live in a trailer, shop at thrift stores, and beg him to see his twin daughters. Ring true? NO! Ring cliché? YES!
People are infinitely more complex than this—and LDS people are complex on steroids—in my humble opinion, which is great news for the LDS writer. It would be truer to see that our heroine married a good guy (because why would she marry a bum, and if she did why should we care about her now? We need a heroine worth cheering for. Never weaken your protagonist by weakening your antagonist…) Maybe he has an affair, maybe he just wants to, maybe she’s a bit preoccupied with everything but her marriage—maybe he’s just fallen out of love with her. As a reader, I’d like to see the pain in the moment when he tells her this. Then I’m invested. Then I’m going to hang in there for 200 pages and see how this all washes out. Give me the heartbreak, the regret, the fear, the tentative first date after 2o years, the feelings of loneliness, the doubting of testimony, the resurgence of testimony, the quiet faith it will require for her to pick herself up and move on… If as the writer of this story, you are not comfortable writing all that detail—then tell the story from a different point of view. Refer to the examples above.
Final thoughts: Pitfalls:
1-When you weaken your antagonist, you weaken your protagonist. Don’t do that!
2-Don’t over explain character traits—create opportunities for illustration.
3-Does your story begin with a weather report??
4-Status and word choice—don’t undo the hard work of characterization with wimpy descriptors. Be true to your onion: The only characters who should throw fits, should be the fit-throwers.
So there ya go! Had me a fabulous time hobnobbing with the nicest, most generous and talented, people in the biz. So what if the keynote left me a tad…what’s the word? Oh, conflicted:)