Balancing Inner/Outer Conflicts

A Main Character who is larger-than-life, has certain attributes and who faces high stakes is often a winning combination. Yet when creating conflict for our characters, novel writers should beware of loading too much personal angst or not enough of a conscience. Balance is key.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some ideas for balancing a Main Character’s conflicts:

  • All Brooding and No Action Make John a Dull Character. Giving your character a lot of personal problems–and a secret or two–help bring that person to life, creating someone readers will relate to. But if you overdo it on the inner problems, you may find yourself trapped in the character’s head too much of the time. When people THINK about their problems or secrets, they usually don’t do much else. Thus, these types of characters often are perched by a window, thinking their lives away. Resist the Urge to Ruminate! 
  • Motivation Matters. Thoughtless action is dull too. If your MC rushes around saving the world but never thinks about her secrets or problems, she’ll appear shallow and uninteresting. Even in thrillers and murder mysteries, the lead must give readers a glimpse of the WHY. What makes this character think she must save the world? What happened to give the character his drive to do things? If readers understand what motivates the MC, they can feel more a part of the story. A caveat: MOTIVATION gives BACK STORY an invitation to come and clog up the forward motion of the story. Resist the Urge to Ruminate! Resist the Urge to Explain! Instead, learn to drop in small bits of back story on a need to know basis.
  • Make the Central Conflict Matter.High stakes are important for this balance to work. A novel where the character navel gazes about his problems will probably not hold readers’ interest. A good way to be sure stakes are high is to apply the So What? test. If my character does not attain his goal, so what? The answer should be something valuable will be lost. If not, try making the situation more important, dire or time-challenged. And no fair saying he’s out to save the world unless he’s willing to wear tights and a cape.

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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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