Asking a few questions can help identify your character's internal conflict:
1. What is your character’s greatest fear?
This will often be the flipside of their goal and will be closely related to that pain in their past. (See yesterday's post for more on this).
Allegra fear’s being trapped for the rest of her life, of never feeling free.
2. What coping mechanisms has your character developed?
There are otfen two aspects to this: who they are and what they do.
We need to work out what emotional armour our characters are hiding behind. We all have it, don’t we? How do they hide their true selves to protect themselves from what they fear?
Your character may also behave in certain ways to protect themselves, but often these behaviour patterns are self-defeating. The character thinks this is what they need to do to get to their goal, but this is actually what’s holding them back.
Allegra has become the dutiful, obedient ballerina. There’s no point fighting against her life; that’s just the way it is. She’s told what steps to do and she does them, and because she entered the profession so young the dynamic of her professional relationships hasn’t really changed since she was sixteen. She’s still stuck in that same mindset.
Remember the car chase hero who was scared of driving? For the story to be gripping, readers will have to worry that your character could fail to achieve their goal, and it’s this internal conflict that will give readers most cause for concern, because when your characters are pushed way beyond their comfort zones that emotional armour is going to seem warm and inviting instead of suffocating, and they will want to revert to those unhelpful behaviour patterns, because this is how they have coped up until now!
During the story they will struggle to learn a better way, but when the going gets tough the safety of doing what they’ve always done to protect themselves is going to get more and more appealing. The greater the conflict, the greater they will be tempted to use their emotional security blankets!
So, when Allegra finally does escape, and ends up on a desert island with a hunky survival expert (What can I say? When she snapped, she snapped!), she feels totally upside down, and instead of taking advantage of all that freedom she relies on doing what she’s always done – following instructions and doing what she’s told. At least, to start off with…
But…in order for your character to get what they want (internal goal) they are going to have to stop being that kind of person, they are going to have to find a new way of dealing with life. The thing they long for is going to be forever out of their reach until that happens.
3.What lessons does your character need to learn?
It's easy to work out how they need to grow and change once you know:
- The painful secrets in your characters past
- What they are afraid of
- What emotional armour they are hiding behind
What has been working for them up until now is no longer getting them by. It’s time to change.
You now have a roadmap for their inner journey (also called their character arc or emotional journey).
Starting point: character stuck inside the shell of that false self, engaging in in self-defeating behaviour.
Finishing point: character has faced their fears, let go of self-defeating behaviour and have embraced life more fully as their true self.
Allegra needs to learn to speak up for herself and make her own choices. She’s also going to have to learn to manage the freedom she yearns for when she gets it, and that having to make choices will be more difficult than she imagined.
Now, that's just thinking about one half of the equation - the heroine, in this case. What's going to happen when we throw the hero into the mix? And how is he going to be part of the heroine's conflict? More tomorrow...