Friday, January 14, 2011

Internal Conflict Part II: A Rock and A Hard Place

Okay, so a little later than I planned, but here is the second part of discussing Internal Conflict!

My attempts at blogging was briefly interrupted by a trip to the oral surgeon yesterday. I have very bad TMJD, and we're trying to figure out a way to fix it. So! After the oral surgeon was done making me open wide, I had a headache the size of Texas. Trust me, you wouldn't have wanted me blogging about internal conflict in that state. 

But I have prevailed, and now we can talk about WHY internal conflict is so important. It's a very short explanation, but vitally important.

It's a little something called empathy. 

The more conflicted your character is, the more they are caught between a rock and a hard place, the more your readers will empathize with them.

Every single book that has ever made me weep with joy and sorrow had an internally conflicted character. Movies work the same way. Think about your favorite movies, movies that moved you to emotion by their own merit and not because of nostalgia or you were already predisposed to like them (book adaptations and comic book movies being an example of a book you are already predisposed to have an opinion about).

There's nothing more excruciating than watching a character struggle between two equally difficult decisions. Your reader will HAVE to find out what happens, and think about how they have had to make similar decisions in their own life.

This works even for anti-heroes. Think about Fight Club, or the TV show House. Neither main character is a "nice" person, but we can still relate. We can empathize, if not condone, how they feel. Partially because of the character's driving internal conflicts.

Another excellent point about internal conflict is that it's a great way to build character. How your character responds to internal conflict says a lot about him. Some people are considered "impulsive". They jump into decisions without a lot of forethought. It could be because this character doesn't want to deal with the agony of decision, so they just make one based on impulse.

Other people are considered "procrastinators". The weight of decision bears heavily upon them. They think and plan and try their best to see the future, so they know which is the correct decision to make. They put off making a decision at all simply because they are afraid of choosing wrong. 

When the decision at hand is what to have for breakfast, it's not a big deal. When it's who to save: your lover or child, suddenly people sit up. It creates instant empathy because every single human being has had to make a difficult choice in their lives. 

Let's go back to my throw away example. You set up your plot believably so that the main character has to choose between their husband/wife or their child. Maybe it's life or death. Maybe they have been through a divorce, and now they must split their time between their child and their new love. Readers will hang on the edge of their seat to figure out how the character balances themselves between these two equally important people.

The choice can be more subtle too. It can be the character's morals vs. their honor.  Their loyalty to their family vs. the loyalty to their lover. Their love for chocolate vs. their recent diabetes diagnosis. 

Give the character a seemingly impossible choice (No more chocolate ever????) and the readers will hang with your main character, waiting to see what they finally decide. 

This internal conflict doesn't have to take over your plot, but it makes your plot richer if it's directly tied into the main events, so the external pressures also increases the internal pressures the character faces. 

In short, creating internal conflict for your character will make your readers empathize with them, and this my friends, is the Holy Grail of writing.

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