Conflict: Balancing Thought and Action

Conflict: Balancing Thought and Action


Ask the Author: What do you do when you aren’t writing? Are you a night writer or a day writer? Have you ever based a character on a real person and if so, do they know it? — Jessie Bailey Andersen

Aaron: When I’m not writing, I’m teaching. Of course, if you mean to ask what I do in my “spare” time, I’m a family guy. I like to hang out and relax with the kids and the wife. I’m more of a morning writer, though I’ve been known to write at night. I prefer to get up early and knock out the writing first thing. And, while I’ve taken characteristics of real people and put them into characters, I’ve never based a character on a real person. I’ve even used a real person’s name in a book (upon her request), and she’s aware of it, but the character is not really “her.” There are some important differences for the sake of story. If I ever did base a character on a real person, I likely wouldn’t tell them.

Al: Wow, a quadruple decker question.

  1. I collect old typewriters, fix them, and then display them for my amusement. My most recent addition is a 1953 Smith-Corona Sterling portable. That was the year I was born. I invested $15. Score! I also watch a lot of documentaries. I’m a “docu-nerd.”
  2. Daytime writer usually, unless I’m well behind.
  3. Never based a character on a real person. The most interesting people I know live in a village nestled in my head.
  4. I guess answer #3 also answers #4.

MJ: I have a day job. By choice, when not writing I like to clean my house, be in the kitchen, and spend time with friends. I watch TV. Some say that’s a time waster, but I find that it actually inspires my creativity with great characters and plots. I’m a write-in-the-moment writer, so if it’s day or night and the muse arrives, I do what I can. Oftentimes, I write little stickee notes throughout the day and compile them in the evenings. I also edit/write on my lunch hour at the office. I’ve never based a character on a real person, although one character has some similarity to an old boyfriend and yes I did let him know.


  • Conflict is the object (obstacle–person, event, danger, etc.)  that stands between your character and their desires. There are two types:
    • External: An outside force opposes your character. A book might have several of these, but usually has one dominant conflict dynamic.
      • Man v. Man (Wounds, any mystery, most thrillers)
      • Man v. Society (The Scarlet Letter)
      • Man v. Technology (Jurassic Park)
      • Man v. God (Greek and Roman mythology)
      • Man v. Nature (The Old Man and the Sea, Andromeda Strain)
      • Man v. Supernatural evil (The Exorcist)
      • Man v. Corporation/Organization (The Firm, Coma)
      • Man v. The Unknown (The Hand of Adonai)
    • Internal
      • Man v. Self
        • Facing/overcoming past (Wounds)
        • Facing/overcoming fears (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
  • External conflict must play out in action (what we can see)
  • Internal conflict often plays out in thought (interior monologue)
  • Tools to use to develop external conflict
    • Dialog
      • “Take one more step, Sam, and I’ll blow your head clean off.”
      • “You were with her again, weren’t you?”
      • “I can’t let you do that, Dave.”
    • Action
      • Billy leveled the gun at Sam’s chest. The barrel of the weapon wandered from side to side as his hand shook. (To add uncertainty and tension.)
      • He’d not felt a cold this deep in his life, had never imagined being cold to his core. His muscles turned to ice and refused to move. Camp was miles away still, and he couldn’t still his hands long enough to strike a match.
      • The lawyer spread out his notes for the case. By the look of it, he’d slaughtered an entire forest to get so many reams of paper.
  • Internal conflict plays out through interior monologue.
    • As much as I loved her, I couldn’t be with her. I wouldn’t put her through that kind of misery.
    • If I tell her about Sally, she’ll never forgive me.
  • The best books make use of both types of conflicts.
    • Make sure you’re not too heavy into interior monologue, otherwise the reader gets impatient.
    • Too much can become redundant.
    • Too little and your character is harder to relate with.
  • Reasons to use interior monologue:
    • To show doubt
    • To show infatuation
    • To show guilt
    • To show fear
  • Reasons to use action
    • Often more exciting
    • Easier to “raise the stakes”
    • Creates memorable scenes. Few people say, “Oh, remember when the main character THOUGHT that thing?!”

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