by Gail Gaymer Martin

Conflicts can be either internal or external. Novels will have both types of conflicts, but some stories will lean more in one direction over the other. Fast paced thrillers are often concentrating more on the External conflict, the driving speed to find the killer or solve the puzzle that will bring a satisfactory ending to the story. Romance, women’s fiction and mainstream novels are more often focused on internal conflicts, the struggle to find meaning in life, to feel fulfilled, to find happiness, or to be forgiven.

External conflicts are those things that are physical. This includes a struggle to resolve issues, to win the hand of a woman, to get the promotion, to find the killer, to punish the criminal, to win the court case, to save the kidnaped child, to find the treasure, to overcome the villain, to win the prize, to receive financial gain, to apologize and have it accepted. External has to do with things outside the character, relating to their home, family, career, friendships, hobbies, talents, church, and other organizations. It’s resolving the rules and finding answers to solve outward problems.

Internal conflicts are within the character and is the emotional thread of the story. It’s the battle over morals, values, and beliefs. It’s overcoming weaknesses, failures, stigmas that have damaged a character’s self-esteem and confidence. These struggles are often against a character’s nature, opinions, reputation, upbringing, religious faith and other elements. Internal conflicts are often more meaningful than external conflicts.

It’s the internal conflicts that mean more to readers, because it is the bane of their own existence. The characters are struggling with the same heart-felt issues that readers have dealt with. Readers need to relate to your characters so that they are caught up in the story and care about what happens. This keeps them reading and coming back for more of your books.

Make sure you use both internal and external conflicts in your novels, and keep the reader in mind. For readers conflict means:

• worry

• connection with the character relating to their own experiences

• action-packed and dynamic

• a puzzle

• powerful emotion

If you can please the reader with growing conflict that builds as it tests the skill and stamina of the characters, you’ll have a winning novel.

*Article used with permission from Gail’s blog post, Conflict: Part III: Internal and External Conflicts


Award-winning author, Gail Gaymer Martin writes for Steeple Hill and Barbour with 48 published novels and over nearly 3-1/2 million books in print with books translated into many foreign languages. She’s the author of Writing the Christian Romance, released by Writers Digest Books. Beginning her career in 1998, she loves to help people realize that it’s never too late to make your dreams come true. With God, anything is possible.
Visit her web site at Please share your comments below. She loves to hear from you.
Also look for Gail’s upcoming release: A Family Of Their Own, 2nd in the Dreams Come True series by Love Inspired…In stores August 23
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