Search This Blog

Crafting Internal Conflict Scenes

Internal Conflict scenes introduce and explore the personal dilemma your protagonist struggles with. The verbal camera is focused with a tight spotlight beaming on the protagonist in the background. Use these scenes to reveal the protagonist’s back-story and show him dealing with his guilt, pain, or need which leads up to - and is resolved by - his point of change.

These conflicts test the protagonist’s character and faith. They make him question who he is and what he does. These are the emotional complications or ties that bind that complicate the overall story problem. 

If the love interest has equal weight, you can explore her personal dilemma and point of change in these scenes as well.

Internal conflict scenes can be flashbacks, dreams, and revelations of back-story through memories or an encounter with a friend or foe.

You can show him exhibiting one type of behavior in the beginning and a complete reversal of behavior at the end to show the point of change.

These scenes reveal the event that happened in the past and how it changed him: he deals with the death of his partner, the loss of his wife, the child he didn’t save.

The internal conflict often culminates in the section after the climax, where we find out if the protagonist lives happily ever after. It can also culminate just prior to the climax.

That does not mean other characters cannot be in these scenes or that he is not doing anything. It means the verbal camera is zeroed in on his thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions to the underlying problem that drives him and complicates the overall story problem.


1) If you have a story idea, list ten ideas for events that will happen to reveal the protagonist’s personal dilemma. The first scene should introduce his personal dilemma. The last scene should resolve it. If you are dividing the scenes between protagonist and love interest, list ideas for scenes that introduce and resolve her personal dilemma.

In our continuing Thriller plot, Dick’s personal dilemma focuses on his marriage. His marriage is on the rocks because he is a workaholic. He had planned to retire but this latest crisis forces him to keep working.

1. Dick and Sally make plans to go on a long-awaited vacation. He gets a call.

2. Dick informs Sally that he isn’t retiring after all. He can’t tell her why.

3. Dick and Sally fight about the vacation. Looks like we’ll have to cancel it.

4. Sally gives Dick an ultimatum. He asks for more time.

5. Sally accuses Dick of having an affair with Jane at work. Dick is called away.

6. Dick finds Sally packing her bags and asks her to stay.

7. Sally tells Dick that she received a call from Ted and that he said there was no reason for Dick to stay at work. That he is lying to her.

8. Dick tells Sally the truth about the meteor.

9. Dick and Sally spend the evening together knowing it may be their last.

10. Dick and Sally leave for the airport to go on their vacation.

2) If you already have a rough draft, save a copy of the draft as “Internal Conflict” and delete everything except the scenes that involve the protagonist’s internal dilemma. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are? Which order would best serve your plot?

3) How will the personal dilemma complicate the overall story problem? How is it resolved? 

The internal layer adds a personal touch to the story and allows the reader to gain sympathy for your protagonist.

Stay tuned for the summary on how all four layers work together.
Note: this post was originally published on

Crafting Interpersonal Conflict Scenes

We've discussed external conflict scenes and antagonist conflict scenes. The third layer explores interpersonal conflicts which test the protagonist’s friendships, loyalties, and will to continue. Your verbal camera is focused on stage left. Interpersonal conflict scenes can involve the friends and foes interacting with the protagonist, love interest, antagonist, or each other.

Friends and foes can be used in any combination of scenes that fit with your story line. There will be both positive and negative interchanges with these characters. This layer addresses subplots and side stories which should culminate before the climax, with everyone lined up and revealed to be on which side of the fight. Subplots should circle back to and intersect the external story problem. If they don’t, you should consider cutting them.

Secondary characters should have an agenda and stakes. Their personal goals may be at odds with the protagonist’s or  antagonist’s goal. Their situation may intentionally or unintentionally complicate the overall story problem. If you change POV, you can express the friends' and foes' thoughts and feelings or show them taking actions the protagonist is unaware of. Interpersonal scenes require the most flexibility depending on the point of view you choose, the number of subplots, and the length of the story. It is easy to divide scenes among secondary characters.


A) List ideas for events involving secondary characters that help or hinder the protagonist or antagonist.

Continuing our meteor story, let’s say Jane is in love with Ted and wants to help him. Captain Curtis is in charge of the space shuttle. General Smith represents the military and controls the satellite. Bob is the ground crewman controlled by Ted. Jane works with Ted and Dick.

1) Jane meets with Ted to declare her feelings before it is too late. He manipulates her into helping him without telling her the real reason.

2) Jane meets with Dick and gives him erroneous data.

3) General Smith argues that his satellite is too important to be used to adjust the meteor’s trajectory. It could cause more harm than good. They should blow it up.

4) Bob tries to tinker with the satellite, but almost gets caught by Jane.

5) General Smith relents and allows the satellite to be used.

6) Captain Curtis balks at sending the laser to the space station.

7) Captain Curtis appeals to his crew. Is anyone willing to go? Captain Curtis decides to go himself.

8) Ted and Jane have a show down. Jane can’t believe Ted is so evil.

9) Bob rats on Ted.

10) Jane and Bob celebrate when the shuttle succeeds.

11) General Smith tells Dick to stay. He is too valuable an asset to retire.

B) List the side stories or subplots you wish to explore. How do they tie into, overlap, or intersect the overall story problem?

C) List how each friend and foe enters and exits the story. How do they end up?

D) If you already have a rough draft, look at each scene. Save a copy of your draft as “Interpersonal Conflict” and delete everything except the interpersonal scenes. Examine how each scene affects the overall story problem. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are? Which order would best serve your plot?

E) Save a draft as each secondary character’s name. Delete everything but the scenes they appear in. What part did they play? Does it contribute to the story in a meaningful way? If not, consider cutting them.

Next time, we will look at Layer Four: Internal Conflict.

Note: this post was originally published on

Developing Antagonist Conflict

Antagonist Conflict scenes introduce us to the antagonist or antagonistic forces. This is your verbal camera focused on stage right.

These scenes test the protagonist’s and antagonist’s knowledge, ingenuity, and strength. They are battles of will and wit.

These scenes zero in on the conflict between the two opposing characters. Other characters may be present, but the focus is on the direct confrontation between the antagonist and protagonist or the antagonist himself.

If you follow only the protagonist’s POV, these scenes are where the lead alien and the hero face off, the serial killer taunts the investigator, the brothers fight over the woman, the scientists clash over the best way to thwart the meteor, or the knight and the infidel cross swords.

If the verbal camera follows the antagonist, or these scenes are written from his point of view, they show him actively pursuing his goal, reveal his personal dilemma, and expose his character flaw and secret weapon. They show him interacting with his henchmen or threatening secondary characters. The antagonist argues his side of the thematic argument. These scenes lead to the climactic confrontation with the protagonist. The final scene reveals the fate of the antagonist.

If you use antagonistic forces rather than a person, these scenes show the protagonist being threatened by nature or working against a controlling power. If the force is family disapproval, and a specific member isn’t singled out as an antagonist, these scenes show the protagonist trying to win them over or to break their hold over him.


1) List ten ideas for events that escalate the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist or antagonistic forces: snags in the plan, unexpected discoveries, reversals, gains, important information concealed or revealed, and increasing levels of threat. Arrange them in an order that will make the most impact. The first scene should introduce the antagonist or forces. The final scene should reveal the final disposition of the antagonist or vanquishing of the forces.

Example: Ted is directly opposed to stopping the meteor. He has been so damaged by life that he thinks it is time for humanity to be destroyed. Since this is a thriller, we will allow the verbal camera to follow Ted.

1. Ted learns there is a meteor headed toward earth. Finally, the world can be destroyed and he doesn’t have to lift a finger. All he has to do is sit back and watch the show.

2. Dick has come up with a plan. Ted vows to make sure it doesn’t work.

3. Ted is denied access to the equipment. He has something on one of the grounds crew, Bob, and uses that pressure to convince him to tamper with it. But we’ll all die. Do you want to die now or later?

4. Ted confronts Dick. Why are you trying to stop the inevitable?

5. Dick has come up with a new plan. So, Ted must tamper with the laser beam.

6. Ted calls Sally and tells her Dick and Jane are having an affair.

7. Dick confronts Ted. You had something to do with this. You’ll never prove it and in a few days it won’t matter anyway.

8. Ted must find a way to make certain the shuttle doesn’t take off.

9. Ted fails to prevent take-off.

10. Ted is led off in handcuffs.

2) If you already have a rough draft, save a copy of the draft as “Antagonist” and delete everything except the scenes that contain the antagonist at work. Examine how each scene affects the overall story problem. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are?

3) How and where does your antagonist enter and exit the story? How does he end up?

Next week, we explore Layer Threee: Interpersonal Conflict

Note: this post was originally published on

Developing External Conflict Scenes

External Conflict scenes are your verbal camera at its widest angle and it is focused on the entire stage.

External conflicts test the protagonist’s courage, nerves, and determination.

They are high tension scenes that focus on the question of whether the overall story goal will be achieved. They are the main actions and reactions that provide the turning points and lead directly to and include the climax of the story.

External scenes show the characters caught up in the situation of your premise such as: boy meets girl, the volcano erupts, aliens invade the town, a body has been found, they are all forced to go to a wedding or reunion, or the wagon train heads out for the wild west. They do not address the subplots unless and until the subplot collides with the main plot at the climax. 

They introduce the protagonist, the inciting event, the story goal, the prize for reaching the goal, and the cost for not reaching the story goal (stakes). They show him developing and attempting a plan of action for tackling the story problem. In the usual three-act structure, his first plan fails and he must come up with a second plan (the wrong solution). That plan fails and he must come up with the third plan (the right solution). 

There have to be some positive moments where it looks like the protagonist is gaining ground. You could divide them equally: five scenes where he is making headway and five scenes where he is losing ground. 


1) If you have a story idea, list your initial thoughts on events that will happen to trigger then escalate this external conflict: snags in the plan, unexpected discoveries, reversals, gains, and increasing levels of threat. Arrange them in an order that shows cause and effect and final resolution. The first scene should contain the inciting event. The final scene should contain the climax. 


1. Dick learns a meteor will strike.
2. Dick thinks of a way to stop it while it is still far away. He will nudge it with a satellite. 
3. The satellite crashes into, but doesn’t change, the meteor's trajectory.
4. Dick comes up with plan to divert the meteor with a laser beam.
5. They can’t get the beam close enough from the ground.
6. They send the laser to the space station. The equipment breaks off and is lost in space. 
7. They are back to the drawing board - all seems lost. They enter countdown mode. 
8. Dick comes up with a final plan. It is do or die. They will nuke the meteor. 
9. They rev up the shuttle loaded with a lethal payload to intercept the meteor and, despite last minute glitches, the shuttle takes off on a suicide mission. 
10. Their plan succeeds and everyone lives, except the crew of the shuttle.

2) If you already have a rough draft, save a copy of the draft as “External Scenes” and delete everything except for scenes that show the protagonist dealing with the overall story problem. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are? Do all of the scenes contribute in a meaningful way? If not can you cut them? 

3) Which scene contains the inciting event? It is Chapter One or Two? If not, can you move it up? 

4) Which scene contains the climax? Is it resolved too soon? Are there subplots and other story lines that drag on after it? Can you cut them or move them up? 

5) How and where does your protagonist enter and exit the story? How does he end up? 

Next time, we will explore Layer Two: Antagonist scenes.

Note: this post was originally published on

How To Layer Conflict

In previous posts, we discussed choosing a central question and a story skeleton, also known as genre. We have bent and twisted a premise many different ways. What happens next?

That depends on whether you are a pantser or a planner. Developing a conflict outline can keep you from getting mired in the middle. If you are allergic to outlining, you can wait until the end of the rough draft to examine each scene and identify the type of conflict it addresses.

The four layer method I use is simply a new way of looking at conflict in the story. It ensures that every scene is earning its page time and is placed in an order that has logical “cause and effect.”

First chapters are easy for most writers. The inciting event occurs. The protagonist makes an important decision or takes an irrevocable action. The antagonist knows of this decision/action and is prepared to oppose him. Then the writer loses momentum or doesn't know where to take it.

The layering process helps you develop the middle and end. You may not have a complete idea of how everything will come together. In breaking it down into layers, ideas will come to you. You may not stick with your original idea. The plot may change as you go. It's part of the process. The magic of dialogue, descriptions, exposition, and actions are not easily outlined, but scene conflicts are. They act as one sentence prompts that keep you from getting “stuck."

There are four layers of conflict to work with. All layers pertain to all genres. Even if you don't have a "bad guy" antagonist in your story, there are characters that work against your protagonist's best interest.

1) External scenes are the verbal camera at its widest angle. They focus on the overall story problem that all of your characters are caught up in and can feature any combination of characters. They address the central question and include the inciting incident, main turning points, and climax. Your protagonist should be present in these scenes. The love interest is a co-protagonist in a romance, so these scenes could follow the love interest if your verbal camera (POV) allows it.

2) Antagonist scenes narrow the focus to the antagonist, or antagonistic forces. The antagonist is the person most opposed to your protagonist's story goal. If your verbal camera follows the antagonist and/or his henchmen, these scenes can focus on them. If not, they are scenes where the protagonist is in direct contact with the antagonist/antagonistic force.

3) Interpersonal scenes focus on interactions with the friends and foes that help or hinder the protagonist and antagonist. Depending on the point of view you choose, they can be in direct contact with the antagonist, protagonist, or working their own agenda. If the friends and foes are involved in a subplot, these scenes address the subplot.

4) Internal scenes focus on the protagonist’s internal journey and lead up to his point of change. They explore his flaws, his strengths, and his thought processes. They include the personal problem that complicates his efforts to solve the overall story problem. If there is a love interest, and your verbal camera follows both characters, these scenes explore their individual struggles as they consider the pros and cons of the relationship.

There have to be both positive and negative interchanges. Two people constantly bickering with no happy moments do not make interesting characters or friends. Constant battle scenes and explosions with no softer moments are exhausting. Cycling between overt and subtle conflicts gives your story the satisfying S-curves the reader enjoys meandering (or speeding) through.

Your story may weave several plots together or explore separate protagonist’s journeys in a consecutive manner. Each subplot or protagonist will have his or her own layers. You would develop each subplot or protagonist’s journey in the same way.

Every scene should have at least one specific conflict and resolution. If your scenes are full of dialogue and people and static motion, but no tension or conflict, they fall flat, encouraging readers to skim over them and that is not the type of page turning to aim for.

The goal is to start off with at least ten ideas for each layer. Forty ten-page scenes result in a four-hundred page novel. The number of scenes vary according to your story requirements.

Changing the way you look at each scene makes writing them easier. Asking hard questions at the beginning saves major rewriting at the end.

We will discuss each layer in detail in upcoming posts.

Note: this post was originally published on