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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.
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