Inner conflict

A post at Jane Friedman’s blog: How to Write Compelling Inner Conflict

In the story, our characters may try to ignore or suppress the distress they feel, but eventually it grows to the point where they must resolve it. But internal conflict is called conflict for a reason: the character is pulled in different directions and doesn’t know what to do. And when the right or best decision means a harder road, the choice becomes even more difficult to make.

This post, and this paragraph, caught my eye because (once again) of Year of the Reaper. This is something that the author, Lucier, does really well, and it’s a big part of what I mean when I say the characters seem emotionally real. There are some GREAT dilemmas in this story, and by great, I mean difficult. Some of them took place in the backstory and some take place during the course of the story, and man, they are hard.

But not all of them! Lucier builds her characters via dilemmas right from the beginning. Here’s Cas: should he bury the dead body of this random person? It will be an annoying task that will take time and effort. It’s a small dilemma. Cas is presented with a lot more dilemmas during the course of the story. We get to know him not only by watching him act fast in an emergency, but by watching him make decisions. Sometimes he makes a wrong decision, or at least not necessarily a right decision, and that’s important too.

Emotional reasoning is where the character weighs and measures each factor related to their situation—their beliefs, facts about their circumstances, personal experiences, past teachings, the people involved, any possible consequences … the whole nine yards.

Yes, sometimes. And sometimes the character doesn’t have time to weigh anything; they have to act right now, this minute, with huge consequences riding on their actions. But this is still emotional reasoning and making hard choices is still involved. I think there’s a lot to be said for putting your protagonist in a situation where they have to think fast and act right now. That tells the reader a lot about that character.

Not that carefully laid plans aren’t important too. Let me see. All right, in RIHASI, in the first chapter, Rihasi is moving deliberately ahead with plans designed and laid out over the course of years. This is still an emotionally fraught situation, however. In the second chapter, Kior decides on the spur of the moment to intervene when a stranger is about to step into danger. Then, shortly afterward, he has to make a different decision about whether to accept this offered job, and he does weigh up a lot of factors, but his decision is largely driven by emotion here too. They are both driven by a sense of what is right, even though they are very different people.

Emotional reasoning plants readers in the character’s perspective, helping them understand the why behind a decision. They get a private viewing of the character’s inner struggle and vulnerability, which fortifies the reader-character bond. 

Bringing the reader into the protagonist’s head is something I’ve worked on from the beginning. Bring the reader more into the protagonist’s head is advice my agent gave me for my first book and it’s also advice an early reader gave me for RIHASI. Nobody but Spock makes decisions logically, and generally not Spock either, really. Decisions are always made for emotional reasons, and opening those reasons up for the reader to see is definitely something that creates compelling, sympathetic characters.

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1 thought on “Inner conflict”

  1. Because you mention Makiia Lucier here, wanted to share that I just finished her most recent book, Dragonfruit. Well worth the read.

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