Writing Characters: Give them Problems

Conflict is what makes a story worth reading. Why? Maybe we’re all sick people who like watching others suffer. Or maybe we enjoy the feeling that someone else’s life is worse than ours. Or maybe, just maybe, perfection is boring.

For those of us not in jail, I think it might be the latter (or I hope anyway). These conflicts can come in two forms: internal and external.

Now, I know you know all this, and I would hate to waste your time. So I’m going to cut to the nitty gritty: how do you develop and show these problems?

The conflict is essentially your plot. As your plot progresses, your character should make contact with the antagonist, realize the depth of their situation, stumble their way through, and finally fight their way out and (potentially) overcome. Now, that is NOT a legitimate plot outline. I will discuss plot in depth in the future, but if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, just go buy Larry Brooks’ books on plot. Best books on how to write ever. Did you get that?


Okay, back to conflict (can you believe I wasn’t even paid for that awesome plug up there^^^?). Your character NEEDS a major internal conflict and a major external conflict.

Your internal conflict is going to be what drives your character externally. Let’s take Harry Potter from his first book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for those of you living under a rock). He’s a young wizard with no parents who has to live up to this “boy who lived” reputation on multiple levels. Externally, Harry is trying to find the sorcerer’s stone and stop Snape from stealing it. Internally, Harry is being driven by the desire to feel accepted.

How do I know this, you ask?

Well, aside from the fact JK and I are besties (JK), we know several key things about Harry that point us this way:

  • His aunt and uncle shunned him his whole life: see whole first chapter.
  • He does anything he can to be the hero (though I don’t think his 11 year old brain thinks of it in these terms): see remembrall scene, troll scene, and any scene with a snitch involved.
  • He wants people to like him: see sorting hat scene, see introducing new friends to Hagrid and vice versa, see parents in mirror scene.

Harry wants to feel accepted into the wizarding world after being kept from it so long. Who can blame him?

These feelings drive Harry to find the sorcerer’s stone more than his desire to keep it from Snape. What’s it to Harry if Snape has the stone? The stone means nothing to Harry without the idea that saving the stone equals being accepted in Harry’s mind.


So when you write your characters, what internal conflict does your character struggle with, and how can you use it to impact the external conflict of your plot?


Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.


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