Saturday, April 4, 2009

External Conflict

As all good stories give the protagonist an external goal, so must he/she also have external conflicts.

The external conflict is the force or the situation that tries to keep the protag from reaching his/her desired goal. There can more than one. In fact, the presence of many can make the story more riveting and can cause the reader to wonder how the protagonist will ever survive.

The strength of the the external conflict may depend on the genre you're writing. I would think in a thriller that the conflict and goal would loom throughout the entire story, whereas in a romance it might be overshadowed by the internal conflict.

Ironically, the external conflict for your protagonist might be the antagonist's external goal. Or in a romance, what the hero wants is what the heroine is fighting against.

For example, in my WIP my tattooed ex-bartender wants to buy land for a non-profit project. She finds the perfect piece owned by a fellow churchmember who happens to disapprove of her in every way.
Is that a strong enough external conflict? I'm not sure yet. I have to write it out and see where it takes me.

What kind of external conflicts have you come up with in your writing? Do you feel that this is a strong or weak point for you?

31 comments:

Jody Hedlund said...

Since I write historical fiction, often my external conflicts arise from the struggles of that period in history, usually religious persecution. Outside forces/antagonists are trying to destroy my character's goals. It's challenging to keep the tension with every scene. I think that's where the internal conflicts and romance conflicts help add tension too.

Jessica said...

I agree. Especially if the external can somehow enhance the internal struggles. Great point about historical fiction! What years do you like to write?

Terri Tiffany said...

I love how you describe all this! be prepared to share more about it when I see you in person! I think my new WIP has a ton of conflict set up and that's why I like it.
I saw that your husband is a Realtor still! However do you do it??

Jessica said...

Lots of rentals! LOL
Oh no, I have to talk about it in person? LOL There's going to be quite a bit of stumbling, I think. :-) Conflict makes the writing more fun, imo. I hope you'll tell us about your WIP too!

sherrinda said...

I agree with Jody, historical fiction has built in challenges for women. I am writing a medieval romance set in the 1100's and it has been fun to get my heroine in and out of scrapes since she is disguised as a boy for awhile.

I love your idea for a book. It is so today and speaks to God's work on the inside of a person. It sounds like something I would definitely want to read!

Jessica said...

Thanks Sherrinda!
I'm so excited to hear that you write medievals because I think there's room in the market for them. I always enjoyed Julie Garwood and Lyn Kurland. I also like girl-disguised-as-boy plots a lot! I was actually just thinking of a plot like that yesterday. :-) Your books sounds exciting!

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I try to keep my main character's internal conflict working with the external conflict. It's tough trying to keep a good balance with what's happening around the character and what her response is and the internal conflicts it presents.

I love your story line! Can't wait to hear more about it!

sherrinda said...

OOoooo...I love Lynn Kurland! In fact, she is what got me into the medieval time period. (She has a new one coming out the end of the month!) I wanted to do a time travel, but figured that wouldn't work in the Christian arena, though I have heard talk of speculative fiction recently.

T. Anne said...

Disapproval can cause many road blocks, so the tension can be never ending. Nice post!

Jessica said...

Donna, I think it's great if you can get the internal to work with the external.

Jessica said...

Hey Sherrinda,
I think I heard you say you liked Lyn Kurland before. I have two books and think she does a great job with sexual tension and yet keeps it clean. I have two of her books.
I've seen some CBA authors do time travel. You should go ahead and do it. :-)

Jessica said...

T. Anne,
I LOVE tension. :-)

quixotic said...

I agree with what Donna M. Kohlstrom said, Balancing the external and internal conflict work well to make a story great, though it is hard to do sometimes.

Lady Glamis said...

External conflicts are a must. I've found that most internal conflicts need something else to drive the characters. I struggle with the balance of both, and find that when the mesh, the result is depth.

Jessica said...

Hey quixotic and Glam,
Interesting comments about balancing them. I really think genre would play into that. What do you think?

Windsong said...

Very nice post. My external conflicts are usually connected to the internal conflicts of the characters--the external happens because of the internal. The character has an internal conflict and does something that sets off a bunch of reactions that causes the protagonist to face her/his internal struggles while dealing with the external problem.

Jessica said...

ahhh! That sounds like genius! Great point, Windsong.

Windsong said...

I think how one approaches it has a lot to do with what drives the story: the people or the events. I tend to write character-driven stories which is why the conflict comes out like it does. :D

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I can't say that I think about external conflict or internal conflict a whole lot although I do understand it. It just kind of...happens. Remember, I'm a dyed in the wool "pray-antser."
(Translation: I pray when I'm stuck. God gives me the answer. I write it.)

Word choice is the thing that tries to send me over the edge.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jessica said...

Susan, great phrase! I'm a pantser, but I should work on being a pray-antser. :-)
Word choice...ah, thank goodness for a thesaurus. What I would really like is one of those huge ones that I could keep right next to my laptop. How about you?

Rita Gerlach said...

Jessica,
I once owned one of those mammoth thesauruses. It sat on the edge of my desk. I used it so much over the years that the binding broke and the pages fell out.

Internal and External conflict. Strike the right balance where the two play a tug-o-war with your characters. That's what makes good storytelling.

One of my favorite novels is Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte certainly struck a balance. Both Jane and Rochester had so much inner turmoil, due to their pasts, their stations in life, English rules of classes, and the drive to find true love, that the book is so filled with tension that it made it a classic.

Historical writers are told the classics are not to be models for how we write today. I disagree strongly. Perhaps the style is old fashioned, but the fact they have endured all these years says something. We can learn from writers like Bronte, Austen, and Dickens how to masterfully blend internal and external conflict in order to show the human condition.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm much more an internal conflict type of writer. I really need to stretch to find those external ones. But yours sounds good to me! Can I steal it? LOL Honestly, just kidding!

Kristen Painter said...

Sometimes I struggle with external conflicts, but if I give it time and really think through my character's backstory, I can find something to work with.

jessie said...

My external conflict is the threat of the world coming to an end. I bet it doesn't get more external than that.

Jessica said...

Windsong, that's probably right. A plot-driven book would have external conflicts that are related more to outside things, I think. Nice point.

Jessica said...

Hi Rita,
I think we can learn tons from those writers. I just picked up Huckleberry Finn the other day and was amazed at how quickly I was drawn into the story.
Balance is key. Now to find it...LOL

Jessica said...

Hi Eileen,
I have troubles, actually, with external conflict. My first manuscript didn't have much at all. LOL
Thanks for saying mine sounds good. I actually had to stop and think about what the external conflict will be to my heroine. And it's actually not that at first. Hopefully this one works out. It's all in the brain still. LOL

Jessica said...

Kristen,
That's a great tip! I struggle too. The internal always comes naturally, but the external *shudder* That takes brain power. I'll have to remember to think about the character's backstory. What a great idea.

Jessica said...

YIkes Jessie!
LOL No, it doesn't.

Dara said...

I'm a historical fiction writer too, so my external conflicts often come from the issues of the era and place.

For example, my MC is half Japanese and half American living in Japan. Also, she was born out of wedlock. Talk about two major taboos in both cultures at that time! So one of the major external conflicts comes from the fact she is never accepted in either society because of her background. This is something that I can often use as both external and internal (since she has the desire to belong and be accepted).

The other external conflict comes from the antagonist trying to find her and use her as a bargaining chip against her father.

Now if only I could figure out how to end it!

Jessica said...

Dara,
It sounds like you have some excellent conflicts in place! Sometimes you can't end it with the external one resolved, but maybe internally she comes to a place of peace?