Your Conflicted Characters

I am blessed to work with many talented authors with great ideas. Recently one of my clients, Renee Andrews,  submitted a wonderful chart outlining her characters’ conflicts. You may have seen similar charts before, but I especially like the way Renee laid hers out:

[Character Name] INTERNAL EXTERNAL
Goal — What?
Motivation — Why?
Conflict — Why not?

Renee is a very successful author at the point in her career where she discusses projects with editors before writing, so I’m not suggesting that new authors should include this chart in formal proposals. What I am suggesting is that this is a good exercise for authors to undertake while plotting out novels.This was repeated for each character. By filling out six boxes for each character, Renee had laid out key elements that will keep readers pursuing her story. I’m sure the exercise had the added benefit of helping Renee get to know her characters better before writing her books.

Of course, this is only the beginning. As authors know, writing any novel takes hard work, perseverance, and talent. But isn’t this a great layout to begin?

Have fun!

Your turn:

Do you have other suggestions on how to lay out your character’s goals, motivation, and conflict?

What resources do you recommend with helping authors with this part of the process?

What is the best conflict you remember seeing in a novel?

12 Responses to Your Conflicted Characters

  1. Amber Schamel March 5, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    Oh ya, the Goal, Motivation and Conflict book was a huge help to me. When I first started penning stories, I had plots with lots of conflict, but my characters had no goal, and therefore unclear motivation. They were just like pin balls being knocked around throughout the story.

    Now, I always make a GMC chart for my characters.

    I loved the conflict in The Last Sin Eater. Deep on so many different levels.

  2. Jeanne Takenaka March 5, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    My Book Therapy has been hugely helpful in helping me develop characters, getting to know them through the dark moment of their past. Knowing the dark moment that shaped them helps me to figure out the lie they believe, their greatest fear, their flaw, their wound, what they want, and their values. Knowing these aspects for each character can help me figure out the conflict between characters.

    I cut my teeth in writing through MBT, and I can’t recommend it enough. 🙂

    Let’s see, one novel’s conflict that has stayed with me is from Amy Matayo’s The Wedding Game. Watching her characters work through their reasons for being on the show was so good. Also, I’m reading Rachel Hauck’s How To Catch a Prince, and the conflict between hero and heroine is set up so, so well.

  3. Kathy Schuknecht March 5, 2015 at 8:46 am #

    I also have Debra Dixon’s GMC on my reference shelf. As I work through my first revision, GMC is my guide to hone each scene.
    There was also a piece of advice she gave in the book that resonated with me regarding GMC: study movies.
    I love Downton Abbey. So fast-paced, scenes often last just a minute or two. I find myself analyzing each one for GMC! And the hook for the next scene, of course…

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 5, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    Oh, dear. I’m not a Real Live Writer after all!

    I start with a vague story arc, and a couple of characters, and run from there. Usually the story changes, and the characters develop motivations and goals all their own.

    After all, they are real people. They just happen to be living in a book.

    Worked so far. I’m still at about 4-and-a-half stars on Amazon.

    • Jenelle. M March 5, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

      Andrew, I’m not a real life writer either! You totally are though, and are wise with your words. Your *outlining* works for you so run with it.

      Save the Cat by Blake Snyder has helped me shape my story and characters. Its for writing screen plays, (gasp!) but the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet has helped me tremendously with outlining, and I begin with that and then deepen each section.

    • Kara Swanson March 6, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

      Haha I guess I should get in line with the “not real life writers” as I am a pantser through and through. Although, i will admit that character diagrams do help a lot. 🙂

  5. Patti Jo Moore March 5, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    Thank you for sharing this, Tamela.
    I’m always eager to discover new ways to know my characters even better and hopefully make my story stronger.
    And of course adding more conflict is so important, and what I struggle with the most. This former kindergarten teacher wants everyone to get along and “play nice” LOL – – and unfortunately that just doesn’t add tension to a story. 😉

  6. Tamela Hancock Murray March 5, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    And by the way, everyone: I also want to give another one of my fabulous and successful authors, Kim Vogel Sawyer, a shout-out for her chart, where she labels the spiritual conflicts of her characters. This is a great addition for anyone writing specifically for the Christian market.

  7. Sandy Faye Mauck March 5, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Good points. I admire people like this. If my husband wrote a novel, that is exactly the way he would approach it.

    But not me- not before-hand. If I put myself in a box of any kind I keep running into walls. Gee Andrew, I agree with you, yet again. I am a pantser for sure. I get the idea and it is like watching a movie in my head. It just keeps moving me from one scene to the next and the characters just keep coming on stage as a supporting cast.

    I did have an editor who couldn’t see my character’s goal, though and that may be a weakness for me. I felt it was clear and so did others but maybe not to someone else. I think I would take these suggestions as a good work-through somewhere within the novel.

    I think Tamera Alexander’s “Rekindled” was one of the best I have read lately. More on the emotional conflict but powerful.

  8. Carolyn Miller March 5, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    Thanks, Tamela, for sharing Renee and Kim’s clues to strengthening characters. Nothing beats charting the conflict and making the intangibles understandable.

  9. Janet Ann Collins March 5, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    Please give Randy Ingermanson credit for the Goal, Motivation, Conflict idea.

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