Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Voices in My Head - Creating Inner Conflict in your MC

I approached the third exercise in Donald Maass' Breakout Novel Workbook with relief. Inner Conflict? Mother's milk to my MC. She's never meet an inner conflict she couldn't call her own. Or so I thought. But, as usual, Mr. Maass wants you to do more than lip service to your characters. It isn't enough that your MC be angsty - that's only a superficial display of inner conflict (speaking from experience, here.) You need to ask yourself (or rather, your MC) tough questions.

What is the one thing your MC wants more than anything? If you're like me you're answer will resemble an onion. The first layer will seem easy, but you'll soon realize it's not the one thing - there are several things your MC wants. You need to dig down and find out which are red herrings (or really just  different manifestations of the same desire) and which is the real deal. You peel back layers until you get to the heart of the thing. My onion looked like this:

What does Mop want most?
To find out who killed Daisy
To find her father
To be normal
To be accepted for who she is
To find out who she is.

That's what Mop really wants when she decides to use her talent to help Mr. Blank find Daisy's killer. She knows she's not like everyone else and this might be the only chance she has to find out what she is like - and if there's anyone else like her.

OKAY! We're getting somewhere. Oh. Wait. Mr. Maass has some additional work for us.
Write down the opposite of what your MC wants. Why, Donald, why? I thought we were friends!

Here's the deal. The opposite of what your MC wants most can absolutely (and probably should) be something they also want. In Mop's case, the opposite of finding out who she is, is the safest bet - forgetting about who she really is. Keeping the status quo. Not to go looking for answers. It's a powerful desire, especially as she comes to understand that finding out the truth about herself will endanger her mother, her friends and herself (of course) but it will also endanger her fragile sense of self. She might not be strong enough to handle the truth. Who wouldn't have a strong desire to run and hide? Thus, inner conflict.

So, how do you create inner conflict in your characters?


  1. I feel inner conflict comes from situations around the character that creates a difficult life for them. It can also come from choosing between two good or two bad choices. There's an entire beach full of potential inner conflicts within a character.

    1. That's so true. Choice can often lead to inner conflict. I also think that identity - how the character sees themselves and how other's see them can lead to inner conflict. You're right, we're spoiled for choice when it comes to inner conflict - this could get fun!

  2. Love the onion list - and it really does usually boil down (or peel down) to something profound, doesn't it?

    1. we could all use the services of onion peeling, right? I think it was Stephen King that said he didn't so much write as 'excavate.' That's how I feel, I have to dig around, peel back to find out what the heck I'm really writing about. It's not always what I think it's about!


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