As I was trying to pin down the internal conflicts for Seep’s main characters, I realized I was drifting too much into external conflict territory. The margins were not clear. I took a break and refreshed myself on the differences between these two types of conflict.

Internal Conflict

Internal conflicts take place in the mind of your character. These are battles of the self. They can take the form of beliefs, emotions, cognitive dissonance, dreams, mental illness, or self-talk, to name a few. And just like we all experience in our own psyche, these private gremlins are not always rational or true.

People think depression is sadness. People think depression is crying. People think depression is dressing in black. But people are wrong. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. Being numb to emotions. Being numb to life. You wake up in the morning just to go back to bed again.
Photo by Sydney Sims / Unsplash

Internal conflict gives your characters complexity and makes them interesting. It helps your reader understand the motivations behind your characters actions, and to feel empathy for the struggles of what might otherwise be a two-dimensional paper doll.

These conflicts inside the heads of your characters are not just there for window dressing. They serve a structural purpose in your storytelling. Your characters struggle to overcome their inner conflict powers an engine of rising tension to fuel the intensity of your story.

External Conflict

External conflict comes from forces and events outside of our characters. They fall into the following categories.

Durante un partido entre el Club de Rugby Málaga y el Económicas Rugby Málaga celebrado en el Bahia’s Park de Marbella.
Photo by Quino Al / Unsplash

Character Versus Other People

Examples include personal conflict, competition, greed, and jealousy.

Character Versus Nature

Examples include animal attacks, weather, terrain, or limited natural resources.

Character Versus Society

Examples include economics, religion, freedom, injustice, and politics.

Character Versus Technology

Examples include automated factory jobs, sentient computers, broken machines, and robots.

Character Versus Supernatural

Examples include ghosts, vampires, zombies, magic, and ethereal/occult forces.

Just like internal conflict, external conflict is one of your storytelling tools. It grounds us in the moment and drives the gears of the plot. By giving our characters something to struggle against, we are raising the stakes and increasing dramatic tension. External conflict helps the reader to further understand the motives of characters, particularly non-point of view characters.

Interface Between Internal and External Conflict

Both types of conflict work together to provide context and weight to the stakes at risk in your scenes. How internal and external conflicts play off of each other will help or hinder your character in their growth and in meeting their goals.

Saw this interesting scene in a tram station in the centre of The Hague, the Netherlands
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For example, Seep’s main character’s socially isolated childhood stunted the development of her people skills. She is very anxious about fitting in with the rest of the police force (internal conflict). It doesnt help that the rest of the force thinks she is a fake psychic and resents her presence on the team (external conflict). So, when someone on the police force is particularly unwelcoming to her, she gets extra awkward. She might say something stupid while spilling her soda on the Sargent, therefore confirming everyones poor opinion of her (intersection of internal and external conflicts).