Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

A “bathtub moment”- on internal conflict March 30, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:35 pm
Tags: , ,


 (Dream bathroom from Castello Baths)







I had something of a revelation this evening. In the bath as always! Reminds me of one of the codebreakers at Bletchley during World War 2 who did his best thinking in a warm bath, so had one installed in his office. Or Archimedes and and his Eureka moment. Instead of lightbulb moments, bathtub moments.

Anyway, the where is irrelevant. The what blew me away!

Okay, it’s basic. Embarrasingly basic. So basic anyone reading this is probably thinking, “Der, how could anyone not know that.”

I finally got internal conflict at the relationship block level and why it’s so important to a good romance.

It’s important not just because it is where the emotional intensity is, but because it is also the key to reader identification. The thing I realised about internal conflict is that it is universal.

The external conflicts are specific to the situation of the characters in the story. Not many readers are going to be surprise princesses, billionaires’ mistresses, or blackmailed heiresses. Nor are many of us lucky enough to meet princes, sheiks, or drop-dead gorgeous mega rich CEOs in our day to day lives. But we all know those internal conflicts, because in one way or another we will all have experienced at least one  of them at least once. Those potential or real blocks to realtionships, that are just part of being a human. The core, gut-deep beliefs about ourselves and love that will feel the same for a waitress as a princess, a bricklayer as a billionaire.

Things like “I don’t deserve to be loved because of the things I’ve done”. “No-one loves me for myself, only for what I do for them.” “I want to take the chance of loving, but I’m afraid of being hurt again.” “It’s selfish to choose love over duty.” “I’m not worthy of love.” “It’s not safe for me to let someone know I care for them, because that makes me weak.” These are the things that would get in the way of this character having a relationship with anyone, not just the hero or heroine.

The internal conflict is the character having to make a difficult choice between options- choose the relationship, or choose the relationship block. Do they go for what feels safer based on their core belief, choosing aloofness, power, strength, safety, silence, duty, affairs? Or do they choose the risk of a committed loving relationship, with this one man or woman who is challenging their most central beliefs?

So the real internal conflict isn’t “Can I give up being a Princess to marry this man?”, it’s “Do I deserve to choose personal happiness over doing my duty?”, and “Can I believe I am worthy of love?”. It’s not “Can I give up my single life in New York to marry this woman?”, it’s “Can I risk letting go of control over my life?”, and “Dare I risk letting someone close again when the end of a love is so painful?”


3 Responses to “A “bathtub moment”- on internal conflict”

  1. Janet Says:

    What a great post. So basically internal conflict is

    character’s core belief Versus character’s craving for a committed loving relationship.

    2 opposing sides fighting each other (without the versus there is no conflict — just an emotional problem)

  2. Eileen Says:


    Add “why should I trust him/her with my life/love?” to that list! I love characters with that issue, maybe b/c I have that issue … hmm I hate analyzing myself … I had a workshop instructor last month tell me that I always write “damaged women” characters and then she wondered aloud what that said about me. I was mortified that she said this in front of the whole group! I was much happier when they were just characters, lol.

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    Ack, Eileen! I hate that when people try to make all our writing autobiographical! Maybe it is, maybe they’re just the characters you find most interesting to write. What’s to write about if the character has no emotional baggage or past hurts? It would make for a dull story, I suspect, only fit to be read by dull people, averse to any challenge to their comfort zone as they read. Your additional reason is spot on too. I’m sure there are plenty more we can add to the list.

    Janet, I love the conciseness of your definition! That’s exactly what I think it is, the internal struggle to make a decision. I guess it all boils down to “Can I take a chance on love, on this person?” Which is exactly what eiee said too.

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