It could be said that one of the necessities of a profound character is internal conflict. Robert McKee argues that the compelling nature of Macbeth is found in the depth of his internal turmoil. Iria López Teijeiro states that internal conflicts add dimension to both character and story. Olivia Markham stated that internal conflict was part of the DNA of a well-rounded character.
But what are examples of internal conflict? In a quest to gain a better understanding, I examined characters across a variety of genres and cultures. In my search, I found a few patterns, two of which I will categorize below.
These categories are not extensive and the characters below are also more complex than my brief summary. More than being a cookie-cutter way to create internal conflict, the below groups are a way to recognize types of conflict within characters.
Longing for Companionship and Fear of Intimacy
Characters with this conflict love deeply in secret and/or long for companionship, but fear involvement after major loss, or due to family dysfunction. Kya from Where the Crawdads Sing is one example of this. After being abandoned by her family, she watches people from a distance, both male and female, longing to be part of a community. She is a ridiculed social outcast who is afraid to get involved.
Characters with this issue aren’t always outcast. In the cases of Hisashi Uehara from Good Morning Call and Tsukasa Domyoji from Boys Before Flowers they are among the most popular boys in school. In the case of El Chivo from Amores Perros more than being a social outcast, the character has exiled himself from society preferring the company of dogs.
Martian Compass and Self-Doubt
Characters with this issue tend to have a strong internal compass that’s at odds with the world around them and partially as a result may struggle with self-doubt. Steve Rogers from Captain America is one example of this type of character. In the first Captain America, Steve Rogers’ desire to become a soldier is limited by the smallness of his stature. Even when he does become strong enough to fight in a war, however, he doubts at one point that he could be any more than a puppet to gain war funding. Throughout the film major setbacks reveals a struggle with self-doubt.
These characters can sometimes be heroes, T’Challa from Black Panther, or villains, like Light Yagami in Death Note. This type of character can also be the seemingly clueless adventurer, like Don Quixote or José Arcardia Buendía from A 100 Years of Solitude.
What are other types of internal conflict that you’ve seen?
Markham, Olivia; “The DNA of Characters;” Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018
McKee, Robert; El guión
Teijeiro, Iria López, Claves para convertirte en escritor