No More Mister Nice Guy: Increasing Inner and Outer Conflict

I've been analyzing my plot lately, with the help of The Plot Whisperer's advice (come back tomorrow for a review of her book, but for now check out her free goodies). One thing I've discovered, is that I made a particular secondary character too nice. Though he's been badly disfigured in an accident and feels shunned in his town, he's patient, kind, and generous. Pretty boring, in fact, when he meets my protagonist.

Agent Rachelle Gardner tweeted an article that got me thinking further. Instead of increasing just the inner conflict or the outer conflict, why not both? I highly recommend Mike Duran's post, The Bomb Under the Sofa.

Donald Maass suggests printing out your manuscript, tossing it in the air, and picking up random pages to check for tension on every page. I suspected that the section introducing this character would not make the cut.

So, what did I decide to do? He's not nice anymore, he's wounded and haunted by the accident he survived. He avoids people (even my main character) for fear of rejection. He's fearful of small places (because of his accident in an underground tunnel). And he's a cauldron of anger, because a senseless accident yanked away the chance for the life he dreamed of. 

Instead of a cozy "instant-best-friends" relationship, he and my main character are at odds, constantly arguing, misunderstanding, and mistrusting. Having "stuff" for them to do and talk about is so much easier when conflict is involved. Knowing he's claustrophobic (and ashamed of that fact), means I'll put him in situations where he will be forced to choose between avoiding his fear and saving someone he loves. His anger will make him confront my protagonist on issues she would rather not share with anyone. And he'll be forced to travel the countryside, rather than hide away from society in his home.

Anyone can write in an earthquake or assassin to increase the tension. But when the tension is connected to the character's inner fears and insecurities, you get more for your money. Now it's time for me to analyze the rest of my plot the same way. 

How about you? Is your inner and outer conflict working together to ratchet up the tension?


  1. Sounds like a much more interesting character now! In my first novel, my protagonist's love interest also had claustrophobia and I absolutely LOVED writing his scenes.

    I had to laugh at Donald Maass's suggestion!

    Good luck with this novel,


    PS. Agent Chelsea Gilmore from Maria Carvainis Agency has granted me an interview and will stop today by my blog to answer readers' questions, if anybody is interested.

  2. The Plot Whisperer sounds like something I need. Thanks for the information.


  3. Lorena, Maass said that in a workshop I attended, and you should have seen the looks on everyone's faces! Thanks for the link to the interview. I've got it bookmarked to read.

    Terri, the Plot Whisperer is fantastic. Listen to a few of her videos, and you'll be glad you did!


  4. Complex characters make a story, and the more overcompensating and tempestuous a character is, the more we want to read about him. I think we're drawn to these characters for two reasons: 1. Because we can relate to some of their "lashing out" based on our own need to cover up some perceived weakness, or 2. because it confirms for us that at least we're more together than that guy!

    As for tension between characters, I'm a sucker for it. I keep going back to see how it gets resolved, or to see who is one-upping whom until such resolution!



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