Building conflict in your characters


“Your characters should, more or less, always be having a very bad day.”

Dan Barden made this statement in a wonderful article entitled The Art of Conflict in the July/August edition of Poets & Writers.He goes on to say that Story=Conflict and conflict creates character growth, and without the growth, you have no story.

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book and happy face

What I still am unclear on is the how. I would love to hear from other authors on how they build the inner conflict of their characters.

Perhaps some of you can even give me an idea on my WIP. My narrator and protagonist is actually the mother of the central character. Her teenage daughter has committed a violent crime. She could either be sentenced to life imprisonment if she is found competent to stand trial, or be sent to a mental facility with a chance for release at some time if she is NOT found competent to stand trial. This is the struggle of the mother dealing with the most horrific of circumstances. It is completely written in the mother’s POV.  Any suggestions on how to build her inner conflict?  She is obviously upset and feels powerless to do anything since it is entirely up to the court to decide her daughter’s fate. But growth? That stumps me.   Or maybe I don’t really have a story at all.

Please leave some comments or suggestions. I value all my writer colleagues out there.

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4 thoughts on “Building conflict in your characters

  1. I take it the mother wants the insanity outcome. She could be in conflict about why her daughter is insane. Is there insanity on her husband’s side? Did her spouse do something to perhaps create mental illness? Does she blame herself, or want revenge from someone else for everything that has gone wrong? or could there be a spiritual growth that happens because she’s so powerless?

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    • Thanks Juli,
      The teenager is the product of a one night stand (with the Police Chief), but the mother is in a civil union marriage with another woman and they raised the child together. Both loving Moms and tried to raise her right. I want to bring out the nature vrs. nuture issue? Did the child do this because she was born “a killer” or are the gay parents to blame for raising her in a same sex household. I have lots of external conflict, but it is the internal conflict or growth that I am struggling with.

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      • Oooh, so many current ‘issues’ there! LIke Accident. Excellent, Don’t you think the external conflict creates internal conflict? Would the mother investigate the nature vs nurture issue in a search for an explanation, and maybe her conflict comes from the answer she finds easiest to accept. I think her greatest inner conflict will be working out how to live with a horrible truth.

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  2. Finding the answer (or at least the answer in her mind) to the nature vrs nurture. I like it. And learning to live with the truth – so the growth is in the acceptance? Thanks. great thinking.

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