Monday, February 04, 2008

Angst Ridden

Posted by Lisa Marnell

Inner conflict rocks – in our characters, that is, not in ourselves.

I’ve been re-reading one of my first “craft” fiction books: How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James Frey. It’s one of the best writing books I own. It has simple common sense rules for good writing!

The latest chapter I reviewed talks about inner conflict:

“When a reader experiences profound empathy with a character, it is because the character is in the throes of intense inner conflict. A character may be in the most pathetic straights in the history of literature, but if he has no inner conflict, the only emotional response the writer can expect from the reader is pity”

Think about these scenarios...

Should religious convictions prevent an MC (main character) from courting the woman he loves?

Does an MC’s own personal experience with alcoholism conflict with his decision to fire an employee caught drinking?

Should loyalty to the New England Patriots stop you from heading to a Superbowl party hosted by Giants fans (of course, not much inner conflict there, actually).

Inner conflict, angst in characters, brings them to life. In a way, it’s because we’ve all been there. We know how all consuming that inner turmoil can be. The decisions a character comes to and why, are stakes themselves, a reason to keep turning pages.

The most beautiful, sensual, and powerful example of inner turmoil in current fiction is found in Edward, the vampire in the NYT bestseller, Twilight; he both longs for Isabella and loves her.

I’ve been asking myself how my characters stack up. Inner conflict is there, but not fully front and center, yet.


Anonymous said...

As always great post. The balance to over do inner conflict is sometimes a great danger. I am struggling with that in my current WIP.
The external conflict I find must raise the inner conflict. they are like twins.

Lisa said...

I think you'll find your conflict Lisa. We all have it and major internal conflict can come from so many seemingly minor things -- truthfulness, loyalty, integrity, other people's feelings, jealousy, insecurity -- You're having conflict because of your struggle to "torture" your protagonist, right? You'll find it. And when you do, it will be as if it was right in front of you the whole time -- it will be that perfect.

Carleen Brice said...

I recently had the opportunity to use my own angst while I was writing one of my characters. :)

Lisa Marnell said...

Usman - you really gave me something to think about, and I see that it's true what you say about external conflict raising inner conflict; if a character has convictions for or against a course of action, the inner conflict rises as the stakes in the outer conflict rise.

Lisa - each day I torture my MC, poor Rose, even more, but just last night, I realized I let her off too easily in the last chapter. I am too NICE a person. Grrrr.

Carleen - Do you mean you poured your own emotions/angst into your writing? I have written when something saddens me; it is always my strongest prose (try listening to Nights in White Satin if you have a heavy scene to write).

Larramie said...

Ah, did Rose bear the brunt of your Super Bowl disappointment, Lisa? If so, that was a very positive channeling. My condolences to all New England fans, it really was an extraordinary season.