Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. In this post, we talk about the two types of conflict to squeeze into a short story.
In the previous 12 Short Stories post, we discussed inner and outer conflict. We identified WHO and WHAT caused the conflict. The WHO helped us to create our antagonist. In this post, I want to discuss the WHAT, which causes and adds to the inner conflict.
We have both kinds of conflict in real life and we need both in fiction. You know those days when everything happens at once? Yip, that is outer conflict.
You know those days when you know exactly what you are supposed to do, but you can’t type a word or gather the energy to do a single thing, that tends to be inner conflict.
Inner conflict refers to our interior thoughts, the ‘we are our own worst enemy’ stuff and outer conflict can be anything from abusive husbands to traffic jams.
In fiction, bad news is good news. That still applies to a short story, only we must be much smarter about it, because we are working with a reduced word count.
The inciting moment gives us a story goal. To achieve this goal the character must follow a certain course. This goal will be opposed by the antagonist, this is the outer conflict. A character must change during the story, this can be good or bad. This change, or growth, is a result of the inner conflict.
Outer Conflict Causes Inner Conflict (and vice versa)
Whatever obstacle your antagonist throws in the path of your protagonist will cause an emotional or mental change. This can resolve or cause inner conflict.
Characters without inner conflict are flat. Characters need to achieve their goals and conquer their fears (or not).
Outer conflict can also be caused by setting, the weather, the time frame, and even the era. Inner conflict is caused by our upbringing, our personalities and our circumstances. Think guilt, doubt, misgivings, lack of self-esteem, arrogance, remorse, and indecision.
How To Create Inner Conflict:
Step 1: Know your character
You need to know your character well to be able to create realistic conflict for him or her. Spend some time getting to know your character. Their backstory will give you an idea of the emotional baggage they lug around that will hold them back from achieving, or make them more determined to achieve, their goals. Establish the inner conflict in the beginning of your story.
Step 2: Add to the trauma and up the odds
Take those worries, fears and doubts and make it worse. The antagonist and the setting will add to the drama. Decide how your character is going to change and start creating the circumstances for those changes.
Step 3: Resolve the plot
Does the character achieve his or her goal? The ending should resolve the conflict and show us the change in the character.
Five Ways To Show Inner Conflict:
- Interior thought: This is the simplest way to show inner conflict. Your character can have an internal monologue about their emotional conundrum.
- Show, don’t tell: Not: Ellen was worried, instead: Ellen chewed her fingernail.
- Physical appearance helps to show: When we change internally this is often expressed outwardly. Chanel said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
- Body language: A character can be unsure in the beginning and confident at the end. Show this through body language. Careful, small steps that become long confident strides.
- Dialogue: A conversation between two characters can reveal everything you need to know about a character’s mental state.
Novels vs Short Stories
Conflict in fiction is what keep us turning the pages. In a short story, you will have to work hard to show the inner conflict without inflating your word count. Narrative and inner thoughts tend to increase your word count; dialogue and body language will reduce it and work twice as hard.
Remember, beginner writers tend to focus on inner conflict, while readers prefer outer conflict. The genre will also determine the ratio between inner and outer conflict, romance and memoir are more indulgent of inner conflict, while crime, thrillers, and action stories are less indulgent.
Happy Short Story Writing!
by Mia Botha
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