Creative Writing: Using Inner Turmoil to Create Conflict

This morning I received an email that came across the American Christian Fiction Writers‘ loop asking for help for a particular scene. Basically, information needed to be conveyed, but the author didn’t want to comatose her readers in the process. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. A passage, sometimes even an entire chapter, will be jam-packed with one eye-blurring detail after another without even the hint of conflict. It’s a self-defeating situation, really.  The information, as important as the author thought it was, is ignored. If the reader is anything like me, they’ll graze through the monotonous, skimming ahead until they get to the good stuff–the drama.

About a week ago I critiqued a romance story. It was your typical girl meets boy, girl likes boy, boy likes girl plot. It was a lovely Hallmark scenario full of sunshine, flowers, picnics, and plans for romantic dates. And it bored me to tears!

So I put my computer down and escaped to my basement for a run before completing the rest of my to-do list. Which would bore you to tears should I record it here. Unless I shared just a smidgeon of all the inner turmoil that occurred while doing the mundane. Either I am the only emotional wreck out there, or we are all plagued by our inner demons. We live in a sinful world, after all. And life is full of conflict. In that hour alone while I stared at the cement wall, the belt spinning beneath my steadily pounding feet, my mind raged. As I watched the miles slowly increase, I thought about all the things I had to get done. This opened the door for false expectations, both of myself and others. Then of course, there was the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit calling me to surrender, to fight against my anxious, fretting, sinful nature so I could rest in His grace. As you can see, my potentially boring run was filled with emotional conflict.

Think about your typical day. The phone rings. You glance at the caller ID. It’s your best friend. You want to answer it, but you have a long list of things to get done before your husband gets home. Perhaps painful memories surface–of when your husband pushed you aside, or of a time when you’re friend let you down when you needed her most.

Or maybe it’s dinner time. You’ve cooked steak because it’s your husband’s favorite, but as you eat, your eyes drift to your steadily expanding stomach and insecurities surface. As your mind dwells on the ten pounds you’ve gained over the past year, your perception becomes twisted. Is your husband staring at you? Does he think you eat to much? So you react, only your husband wasn’t thinking of you at all. He was deep in his own world of inner demons and insecurities. And viola’! You have conflict.

Everything we do is tainted by the baggage we carry. The same is true for our characters. The next time a boring scene threatens, dig deeper. Remind yourself of your character’s inner demons and insecurities. How would those demons rear their ugly heads in the current situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean your characters will throw a fit. Perhaps they will hide behind a painted smile, but their mind will rage. Because the human mind always does.

And if you don’t know your character’s inner demons and reality-distorting insecurities, then set your computer aside until you do.

Confused? Maybe this article will help: Conflict found on “Learn the Elements of a Novel” website.

Posted In


  1. Nice insight! I know what you mean. The details are important, but the baggage a person carries is what makes them who they are. We should show that more in writing.

Leave a Reply