Balance of Power: Inner and Outer Conflict

I love to write tips about subjects that I grapple with in my own writing life. Lately, it’s been remembering to balance inner and outer conflicts in my story. What are the pitfalls of unbalanced inner and outer conflicts?
Writing Tip for Today: As a writing instructor, I often see two types of novels.

  • The Navel Gazer. The first type features a protagonist who is trying to “find” her/himself. It’s often a midlife crisis in which the character gets mad and isn’t going to take it anymore. Trouble is, the character spends so much time investigating how he/she got to this place that nothing of note happens. One tip-off to this problem is to gauge the ratio of scene to flashback, internal dialogue and/or narration. If the character does little besides sittin’ and thinkin,’ it’s a sure bet there’s not much doin’. Reader dies of boredom.
  • The Action Flick. The second type is full of action, and often hops around (either legally in a new scene or chapter, or illegally in the midst of a scene) in viewpoint. The result is an omniscient feel, where we don’t get to know anyone too intimately. With scene after scene of action and no sequel (interior evaluating of the action by a character), readers don’t bond with the character or the story. This makes it more difficult for the reader to sympathize with the protagonist. Reader dies of heart attack from too much activity.
  • Ideally, your story balances both the inner life/conflicts and the outer life/conflicts of one character more than the rest. In my opinion, it’s got to be some one’s story, someone you as the reader can laugh with, cry with and care about. Examples of inner conflict can be as simple as something denied the character, a secret, or the longing to begin a new life. But don’t stop there. Add in at least enough external conflict to balance that longing. External conflict can be neighbors fighting over who mows the strip of lawn between their houses as well as it can involve world war three. Try to identify the inner and outer conflict in your WIP.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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