The Conflicts of Character Design

There are many parts of creating a new novel, and creating realistic characters is probably one of the most challenging ones. Characters need to be believable. They need to have their own personality, habits, and traits that set them apart from others. If done correctly, the reader will be able to relate. They’ll understand and feel concerned. It’ll pull them deeper into the novel and they’ll keep reading to figure out what will happen. If done poorly, it will throw them out of the novel. They won’t be able to believe and before long, they’ll look elsewhere and leave your novel behind.

When I create new characters, I focus on the conflicts. Everyone has conflicts they face and have to deal with. It’s the sum of all these conflicts that can lead them on the road of hero or villain. These conflicts will generally take on the shape of external and internal, two sides of a fight that is always raging in everyone.

Internal conflicts are anything that tears your character apart from inside. This can be dealing with a phobia, memory, or other psychological barrier. It can be need to be the best, or look the prettiest. It can be the fear of the dark that makes your character abandon others he could easily save. Or the pride that keeps him from admitting he was wrong. The internal conflicts are generally the deeply ingrained problems that the character spends the entire novel attempting to overcome.

External conflicts are everything else that keeps your character on track. The broken home he has to deal with, the abusive parents. They can include the weather, environment, wild animals, or other characters. Anything that goes against what the character would do and forces them to make decisions.

When you create a new character, consider all the conflicts that they have to deal with. Write them down and keep them in your mind as you write them. They’ll keep your character constant and provide motivation to act, even if it’s running away. Once these conflicts are established, your character can show true heroism by not only saving the day, but by having to overcome their natural reaction to do so.

4 responses on “The Conflicts of Character Design

  1. Frank Morin

    You’re absolutely right, Matt. Characters can be so tricky. I have several strengths as a writer, but characters has not been one of them. It’s something I’m working on with 2 of my current projects.

    I’ve found I need a detailed character profile including the character’s conflicts, their desires, their history. I ask for each one:
    What is it the character wants?
    Why can’t he/she have it?
    What does he/she do about it?

    Once the character is fleshed out and those questions can be answered in a realistic and consistent manner for the character’s POV, then I’m ready to work with them and I have fewer problems. A lot of the big issues I’m working to correct stem from the fact that I wrote scenes with characters that I had not taken the time to do this with.

  2. Colette Vernon

    I have to take this concept one step farther. When writing my outline, I list my characters’ conflicts chapter by chapter, making sure there is always some type of conflict being dealt with that moves the story forward. One of the funnest parts of characterization for me is watching how those conflicts change my characters and often move them into other conflicts.

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