Mental Health Monday–Character Conflict

As writers gear up for NaNo, I want to review an important tidbit to keep in mind.

Stories thrive on tension and a sure-fire way to create tension is through conflict. Not only can conflict occur between characters, it can also happen within a character.

Here are some examples of conflict between characters:

  • Protagonist vs. Antagonist
  • Protagonist vs. BFF
  • Protagonist vs. Parent
  • Protagonist vs. Love Interest
  • Antagonist vs. Minion

Pretty straight forward, right?

So how do you develop conflict within a character?

  • Put him or her in a situation where he/she has to choose between two “bad” choices. (Does the phrase “the lesser of two evils” come to mind?)
  • Make it so the antagonist is a sympathetic character and let the protagonist see it. This will put him or her at odds with defeating the “bad guy” versus giving them forgiveness or helping them.
  • Set things up so the protagonist can’t necessarily tell the difference between reality or fantasy. This doesn’t have to apply strictly to paranormal or even psychosis, but situations can be open to interpretation and it all boils down to perception. For example, if a protag sees her love interest hug an attractive woman, the protag may assume he’s married or dating when in reality the “other woman” could be a cousin or sister.
  • Like all humans, it’s natural for our protag’s to have mixed emotions about things. For example, maybe the protag is trying to quit drinking because he’s got a DWI, but his buddies are egging him on to drink. He knows he shouldn’t, but dammit, why can’t he have a good time like everybody else?
  • Remember that the higher the stakes, the more tension and the more conflict arises.

What strategies do you use to raise tension and conflict between and within a character?

Check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah Fine’s The Strangest Situation for some awesome writerly posts!


22 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Character Conflict

  1. Ciara Knight says:

    Great tips on character conflict. This is such an important thing to consider while writing.

  2. Sarah says:

    What a great post! I think you need both interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict to make a powerful story.

  3. Karen Lange says:

    Good stuff, thanks! Working on a chapter this week and I need to keep this in mind. 🙂

  4. Sheri Larsen says:

    Great post and suggestions!

  5. Leigh Moore says:

    Hey, great tips! And the higher the stakes, the more fun to read! Whee!!! :o)

  6. Kendall Grey says:

    Lesser of two evils is my fave way to present conflict. Forcing characters into tough decisions ALWAYS creates tension.

  7. Vicki Tremper says:

    Good stuff, Birthday Girl! Randy Ingermanson (of the Snowflake Method) suggests creating inner conflict by giving your characters conflicting values – what does the character believe in over everything? Now, have the character also believe in the opposite of that. Donald Maass suggests something similar in How to Write the Breakout Novel.

  8. Elizabeth Arroyo says:

    Great list. Thanks,

  9. What about protagonist vs. minion? or does that count as protagonist vs. antagonist?

  10. Lydia K says:

    So true. I have to remind myself of these constantly. Excellent post! I need to come back to this when I’m plotting and writing.

  11. Great post! Love those suggestions, especially the one about making it difficult for the protag to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. That’s a fun one.

  12. lenny says:

    hi dr laura! i could always learn something new from my blogger writer friends. i didnt ever much think bout that conflict stuff but for sure you got me thinking how it could make my stuff lots better. im gonna copy all you said and put it in my writers notebook. its just real cool how much i been learning on being a good writer. this is a real good one.
    …hugs from lenny

  13. Linda Gray says:

    Excellent reminder, and I love that picture. Oh, yeah, I can imagine the conflict there all right. I’ll bet those two women are best friends. . .and the blonde walking by saw him first, but didn’t do anything about it right away . . .

  14. Linda Gray says:

    Hey, Laura, me again. I just saw your Friday post and had to say Happy Birthday, and my birthday was yesterday, the 16th! It was a great b-day weekend, wasn’t it?

  15. Great tips! I especially like the one about making the antagonist a sympathetic character. 🙂

  16. Dawn Allen says:

    Really enjoy your blog so have awarded you a Versatile Blogger award. Pick it up at Keep up the good work.

  17. Brilliant list! Brilliant post! I going to read bits of this to my kids who are working on their own stories. I remind them “more conflict.” You’ve illustrated perfectly that it’s not only in the most obvious places.

  18. Such a great post! Love visiting your blog!

    Lola x

  19. I love these suggestions. It’s too easy to focus on the external conflict, but inner conflict can be even more powerful.

  20. This is a good list. No matter how much I write, I always find it helpful to read these things to remind me and everyone approaches it with their own angle, so anyone’s advice can have the little bit of whatever that makes the connection to the story you’re writing.

  21. Donna Hole says:

    My women’s fiction uses a lot of internal conflict; the characters know what is the right thing, but their flaws (addictions) keep them from resolving their issues on their own. Which sets up external conflicts with family, work, the substance itself. . .

    I like your list; very handy to keep in mind when exploring character development.


  22. Cynthia Willis says:

    This is wonderful advice. Thanks!

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