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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

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