13.23: Internal Conflicts

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice

Internal conflicts, simply put, are problems your characters have with themselves. In this episode we address the ways in which writers can build stories and subplots around internal conflicts, and how we can tell when it’s not working.

Notes: the MICE quotient is Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Mary’s relationship axes are Role, Relationship, Status, and Competence.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Use the Role, Relationship, Status, and Competence axes to define one of your characters. Then determine how each of these creates conflict with the one following it in the list.

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

8 thoughts on “13.23: Internal Conflicts”

  1. I think the stigma with mental illness comes from the fact that most people seem to think it’s “all in your head”, i.e. it’s not physiological, which would make it outside your control; it wouldn’t be your fault. EVERYTHING is physiological. Our minds are only our brains and the patterns of electrical impulses in them. If someone has a mental illness, it’s not their fault. Some of it can be fixed by fixing the causes, some of it with medication, and some of it just has to be lived with, coped with. I just think we need to be better informed about all of it.

  2. Thank you all for these podcasts. I’ve been listening for years, and occasionally even shared them with my middle-school students.
    In my own book, I think of internal conflict by focusing on my favorite quote and thinking of ways to break it and fix it.
    “Your greatest responsibility is to become everything that you are, not only for your benefit, but for mine.” -Leo Buscaglia (perhaps paraphrased from Elie Wiesel. I’ve never been able to hunt down the attribution to my satisfaction.)
    I try to play with potential, and how a lack of living up to one’s potential can harm the greater society. To me, that’s the heart of internal conflict, and it plays nicely with the kinds of mental illness topics you discuss at the end. ‘Becoming everything that you are’ looks different for different people and should for our characters as well.

  3. Those four axes are really interesting. I wonder if there might also be a fifth one about devotion to an ideal? For example, I am committed to a particular virtue or to avoiding a particular vice, or I am devoted to the good of a particular person or family or company or country, or I am a believer in this political philosophy or religious view, etc. Or at its simplest level: I am a good person.

  4. The chic quartet, Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice, got together to delve into internal conflicts! At length! Starting with where to look for internal conflicts, including role, relationship, status, and competence. Then they considered using mental illness as a source of internal conflict. Lots of commentary! So, read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives and over here:


  5. The discussion of possible reactions to hypothetical cures for mental illnesses was very interesting. Just to show that such things are never as simple as you’d think they ought to be, have a look at the history of reactions to the (somewhat) cure for a purely physical affliction: Cochlear implants.

    One would imagine that a device that restores hearing to the deaf would be met universally with joy and rejoicing, but in some cases deafness is caused by genetic factors and passed on to one’s children, sometimes for generations. There were many families who saw the implants as a horrible thing that would tear apart the “deaf culture” they had built by making their children have no need for it!

  6. Another excellent podcast. This show handles sensitive subjects really well. It’s something I’ve always appreciated. While mental illnesses do make for interesting internal challenges, when I think of “internal conflict,” I think of a character who is at war within themselves, and not because they are necessarily broken. Their own internal values are at odds with each other, and working through that is part of the character’s arc. For example: a character desires to care for a family member whose invalid, in physical pain, and who is also verbslly abusive. Being abused results in the desire to abandon said family member. Does the character continue to stay and help the abusive family member or do they leave for their own peace of mind?

  7. Hi,
    I’m a big fan of Writing Excuses! I have been listening for 4 years, as well as digging into the archives. Thank you for all of it.

    I was really impressed by the Internal Conflicts podcast (13.23), particularly the discussion of characters and depression, and how mental health issues could be, or might not be, linked to character arcs and actions. Even more so, the honesty and frankness of the panelists in talking about their own issues, or their experiences with others, was very powerful.
    Thank you for bringing this topic up. Many people will have different takes on characters and mental illness. I just wanted to voice my appreciation for this podcast.
    Best, DR

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