What is Internal Conflict? – Literary Terms 101

Internal conflict: “An internal or psychological conflict arises as soon as a character experiences two opposite emotions or desires – usually virtue and vice, or good and evil – inside him. This disagreement causes the character to suffer mental agony, and it develops a unique tension in a storyline, marked by a lack of action.” – literarydevices.net

Writing Advice

Art by Delawer Omar

My horror short, “Autonomy Bleeds Black“, is a story driven by internal conflict. My protagonist, called “the author” is torn between standing up for himself or giving into parental manipulation. I think for internal conflict to remain engaging, you have to keep three things in mind: 1. Make it relatable, 2. Make it believable, 3. Make sure the stakes for each choice are high. The relatable element comes from our most common emotional and psychological conflicts in life, like relationship issues, career choices, etc. The believable aspect comes from how characters act and respond to their conflict. In my story, my protagonist has anxiety attacks and maladaptive daydreams in response to the parental pressure in his life. Lastly, raising the stakes requires suspense and for most internal conflicts, the consequences have to be clear even for situations as messy and ambiguous as emotional instability. What are the consequences for letting a manipulative person back in your life versus setting up your boundaries and expecting destructive backlash from the manipulative person? What about betraying a friends trust versus being loyal at the cost of losing your job? It’s about emphasizing the importance of the consequence to the character and translating that over to the audience even if the true consequence isn’t so black and white.

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Art Source: Delawer Omar – kurdistanart.blogspot.com

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