Writing Tips: External vs Internal Conflict

Conflict can be a nebulous concept when starting your journey as a writer. Sure, all writers know that it’s the peak, the apex of the story. What new writers especially have actually is a lack of the full concept. Or at least of the layers at play when it comes to conflict. There are two major categories of conflict: External conflict and Internal. Within the external arm of conflict there are subcategories of conflict, but more on that later. The hope is that new writers be able to weave more apt plot structures, with the information within.

External Conflict

Most are familiar with this type of conflict even if they don’t know the name. This is the person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. society, and other like structures that we know most from stories. It is the Harry Potter vs. Voldemort, The Ender Wiggin vs. the Formics or “Buggers”. We know these so well because they are the spotlight of a story. The external conflict is what the protagonist, who is not always the hero, confronting whatever thing lay in his way. The reader might not know who will win but we know the protagonist will fight either way.

On random note: early stories heavily focused on external conflict to drive their stories. Characters with classic works of drama had know attributes: intense cunning, super strength and other such factors. All they had to do was reach, find or fight their way to their foe. More modern stories are taking on a different approach by implementing internal conflict in varied ways. (This isn’t to say that internal conflict wasn’t used in such pieces but they were not as predominately centered as we find them now). Information source

Internal Conflict

Internal conflict done well can be much more nuanced than the external conflict it supports. Internal conflict should support the external conflict. The conflict rests in the the protagonists approach to achieve his goal. Will he murder the King of Where-ever or find a more legal means despite the king’s inexhaustible violence and vitriol. The character must be caught between between viable methods of solving their goal.

Some writers, myself included, have the habit of focusing too much on internal conflict and craft a flat narrative. This can be done well but it requires some mastery to conquer. Some writers still, have both internal and external conflict but neither of them relate. This can make your plot brittle, doomed to crumble.

Fuse these two elements, the possibilities are exhaustively endless, and your story will rest on a much more stable backbone. In turn its delivery to your reader will be much more crisp.


This writing tip was inspired by the above mentioned hyperlink (I apologize if it seemed too derivative). It helped me considerably in plotting my next short story. If you’re looking for writing advice you don’t normally see, send it to me and I’ll help the best I can.

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7 thoughts on “Writing Tips: External vs Internal Conflict

  1. Interesting, thank you. I think I focus too much on internal conflict and end up with deep characters but flat plots. Your advice about making internal and external conflicts compatible is definitely something to keep in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I seem to run into the reverse more often – writers focusing too much on external conflict instead of internal. I’ve critiqued a lot of work for other writers where many things are happening, but little time is spent on the character’s thoughts and emotions regarding said happenings. I really need that inner conflict, because otherwise the story just feels like a bunch of popsicle stick puppets moving from scene to scene, hehe. 😛 Ideally there should be a mix of both, though, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Flash Fiction: Blackout | Writings By Ender

  4. If we struggle in writing, and then the conflict will follow. It boils down to how we weigh our writing skill. We have to achieve our goal and eliminate the conflict. Your post is perfect for people just starting out in writing, like me. I’m not particularly good at this, but thanks you I’m motivated to be better than ever before.
    Ps: https://essaytwist.com/

    Like

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