Monday, September 19, 2011

The conflict within characters

I had a wonderful vacation, but I'm so glad to be back home.

Taken with my cell phone and doesn't quite capture all her cuteness.
We started our vacation with my cousin's wedding, where our daughter was the flower girl. McKenna was a ridiculously good flower girl. Seriously, we should hire that girl out. Not only was she darling in her dress, but she really dedicated herself to her role. She's been practicing around here with ripped up Kleenex and her Easter basket, and she "studied" her flower girl book on the drive, so it was no surprise when she performed flawlessly. She stood still for the ceremony and didn't pick her nose or burst into tears, like I'd been needlessly worried about.

But being on the road for 9 days with a handful of a 1-year-old is no easy task. Especially when he's pretty sure that all the sand on the beach was put there for him to eat. And same with all the gravel and dirt in our campsite. We spent a lot of time fishing grit out of his mouth. And wiping off his pacifier, which he now throws when he's mad at us. Sigh.

Being around him, however, clarified something I've known about building conflict within characters, but something I wasn't sure how to illustrate.

The pacifier is a very important object to Connor.

A very close second is me. The guy is in a serious mommy phase.

Though you wouldn't know it by how long it took me to find a picture of the two of us together. Good grief.


Connor's love of the pacifier and me are most obvious when he's tired. And on vacation, the poor guy was tired a lot. One night - when it turned out that he wasn't just cranky from travel, he was also cutting 2 new teeth - I saw him do something that has changed how I view character-building.

It was late at night (for Connor) and I was trying to get ready for bed. When I came out of the bathroom, Connor ceased his fit throwing and came barreling for me. Then my husband called out, "Hey, Connor, I have your pacifier." Connor turned and saw my husband holding it and took a couple steps toward him. But then he seemed to remember that I was the other direction, and he turned and took a couple steps toward me.

It reminded me that we should be doing this with our main characters. (And why stop there? Why not build it in to another character in your cast too?) Your main character should love multiple things because that is one of the best ways to build internal conflict. Especially when achieving or acquiring one thing might mean (or does mean) losing the other.

Say your main character's parents hate the guy she's with; they think he's "beneath her" or something. It's easier if your main character doesn't like her parents or doesn't respect them. What would ratchet up that conflict would be if she loves her parents and feels like they've always provided her with wise counsel. What's a girl to do now? Build a life with the only guy she's ever loved, or ignore the questionable advice of her wise parents?

In our hotel that night, Connor eventually chose me and then I carried him to where his pacifier was, so he got us both. Maybe that works out for your character too. Maybe she gets everything she wanted in a way she never could have foreseen (Breaking Dawn  - whatever you may think of the Twilight saga - is a great example of this). Or maybe your character has to give up something permanently. You can still pull a satisfying ending out of that.

Does your character have something (or even better, a couple somethings) that he or she cherishes? What are they?

 Hope you all have a wonderful Monday! Next week we'll start up writing prompts again - can't wait!


  1. For once I have a book that's a perfect example. =) My heroine is a spy--so if she opens up and reveals her true self to the hero, it could mean, literally, her death. She loves him, but she also loves her cause.

  2. So my character is a guy who's brother and father are the bad guys, and we only find this out in the middle of the book, even though they've been training him and five other kids, including his step-sister, who has no clue he's related to them, either. The conflict for him is mostly in the beginning, because he doesn't know what all his friends/teammates will think of him if he tell them about his family, so he hides it from them until his step-sister is put in danger by his father. Later, he feels like it's all his fault that they had to escape, and so he sort of takes charge, feeling a responsibility to keep his five friends alive.
    Is this sort of what you're saying? (sorry about the long post)

  3. Oh, my word that is just like my story. That is so funny.


  4. Long posts welcome, Becki :)

    A need to protect several people always works well, especially when they need the main character to come to their rescue at the same time. Like in Dark Knight, when Batman must choose between saving the girl he loves or the man who has the power to turn things around for the city (and who's also engaged to the girl he loves!)

  5. Okay, good. Just wanted to make sure I was doing things right :). And now all I have to do is my fine-tuning, some more character development, and I think I may be pretty much done. :) I'm so excited :D. By the way, I love reading this blog, and it's been extremely helpful as I write my book. THANK YOU!

  6. I really liked this post, and it made a ton of sense. I love it when I learn something about writing in those "real life" moments. :)

    My story is about a girl who is in the Foster Care system and just recently discovered that she has a younger sister out there who is also a foster child. My MC is 17, so she only has one more year to kill before she is 18 and can go in search for the younger sister she's never known. BUT, in that year she moves to her last foster home, and right next door she meets a guy. They become friends, and before you know it, she knows she's falling in love with him. So now she has to decide whether to stay with the only person who has ever made her feel like she's "home" or go in search for her sister, the only family she has left. Is that enough conflict, or should there be more depth to it?

    I'm also looking forward to the writing prompts. :)

  7. Well let's start out with how cute your children are they are adorable. Second my cat is laying on my hands while I'm typing so bare with me.
    I'll say that my MC wants to go home to her world but she's fallen madly in love and has decided that she wants to stay where she is. Where should a girl go? To her home on Earth or stay with her true love and live happily ever after.
    Can't wait for writing prompts (I've been going crazy.)

  8. One of the things that kinda goes along with this is that in my fantasy book, the MC is adopted and really loves her parents(the king and queen) and country. But (and I'm still working on the back story) some of the people in that country don't like her or feel like she shouldn't rule because she isn't really royal blood. So now she is at a training camp sort of...with other royals and she is keeping it a secret.Since there are hints of a rebellion in her country she just kinda wants a break. And then there is going to be a choice that I am still working out...
    It's in progress. That was the only thing I could think of though.Sorry about the comment being so long :) I can't wait for another prompt! Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

  9. Cute kids! The one of Connor with the pacifier looks like your husband from the pictures you've posted of your husband.

    Love this post because I'm composting characters right now & building conflict is something I'm trying to be aware of. My MC hates change and yet she's trying to get into a school far away & wants to her best guy friend to be her boyfriend....both of those would bring big changes. Is that the kind of thing you are talking about?

  10. Great tips for conflict and making the characters sing. Conflist building within the character is something I need to work on so this was really helpful :)

  11. Is a pacifier the thing in his mouth? Because we call them dummy's over here in Australia. :D

    What a great post, by the way. Ooh, I remember being a flower girl in my Auntie's wedding. Weirdly enough, I was remembering it this morning -- wondering if I walked down the aisle or stopped when I saw my parents or whatever else! So I'm glad McKenna did a good job :)

  12. Emii: I love that!!!!! Yeah that is it. I forgot to mention, McKenna looks so adorable and that story is the cutest thing! My youngest sister was the only one who ever used a pacifier. And she would flip it. Over and over again. It was cute :)
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

  13. Your Kids are soooooo cute! Thanks for the post, it was really helpful!:)

    - Elisabeth Greenwood

    P.S I LOVED the bit about the dummy!

  14. I actually had to type into the computer "pacifier definition"! I'm from Australian too :)

    I really need to work on conflict with the story I have started... Thanks for the advise!

  15. I love the international feedback on here because I had no clue that pacifier was an American term. Although, actually, I don't know many who call them pacifiers. Most people I know call them binkies, for whatever reason. Our friend Nick calls it "The B," which I love. My grandfather-in-law calls it a "cheater." I think I shudder inside every time he says that. He's a wonderful man ... but that term really creeps me out. Though I suppose it's along the same line as calling it a "dummy."

    Sierra, I love it when babies have their pacifiers upside down! Both of my kids have been raised in the era of the "Soothies" pacifiers (the green one Connor is pictured with) so they haven't been able to do that. It's so cute, though.

  16. Tonya, good eye! Connor looks a LOT like his dad. Which I'm grateful for :)In regards to the conflict in your story, what you describe sounds like a great breeding ground for internal conflict. Especially if there comes a point where she must choose between the school and the boy. She can end up with both in the end, but it'll do a lot for your character's growth if she feels like she has to choose.

  17. Becki, how exciting! Congratulations! And I love WRITING this blog, so thank you for making it feel worthwhile by showing up so frequently :)

    Clarebear, that sounds like EXCELLENT internal conflict. Kinda twisted me up inside when I read your description. Nice job!

    Alana, I love that your cat lays on your hands when you're trying to type. How funny :) Your conflict sounds like something that would really draw your reader into the storyworld since even though they've never had to make that exact choice, they've likely had to make a similar one.

    Sierra, sounds like your character would have lots of "loyalty" internal conflict. Loyalty to her country and her parents, loyalty to her heart and dreams. Very nice!

  18. My MC in a book I'm writing loves a guy secretely and they are the best of friends, but his dark secret creates conflict within her because she has to sneak out against her parents wishes and help him in order to protect her family and her guy friend. :)

  19. Great post! Really clear picture of something I think I already "knew."

    Clare and Sierra, I loved reading the snippets of ya'll stories.

    Tonya, I'm at that character-development stage, too! (Virtual high-five!)

    Too funny about the pacifier-dummy-"cheater" conundrum. Stephanie, that last one made me laugh out loud. Here in the South, a "binkie" is most often a blanket. Ninety-nine percent of the time we call pacifiers "plugs." It sounds like the most appropriate of all, huh?

  20. Lol, Rachelle. Plug is probably the most appropriate of all the terms, because that's what we use it for around here!