Character Development Screenwriting

Internal Conflict: Crafting EXCEPTIONAL internal conflict in your script

Conflict is integral to any great story, and both internal conflict and external conflict must be mapped out and developed fully. 

Internal conflict is everything that is happening inside your characters head, their struggles with decisions, morality and the mental state they’re pushed through whilst trying to solve these dilemmas. 

It’s an interesting concept that offers as much weight as external conflict and can be used to push and pull your protagonist in every direction. 

We will look at what internal conflict is, how you can add it to your script, why internal conflict is so essential, and the most significant internal conflict examples to inspire you.

What is internal conflict?

what is internal conflict?

Internal conflict is something that happens within your characters head. Usually, they are fighting something internally that they don’t believe in or simply don’t want to do. It’s essentially putting your character against their head or their heart. 

This type of conflict is also known as Character vs Self. 

A character must be pulled in multiple directions when looking to make a decision; this essentially creates an internal conflict. This can be caused by desire, need, fear or many more triggers that we will explore later on in the article. 

Common triggers of internal conflict can be: 

  • Expectation
  • Want
  • Desire
  • Fear

Essentially you need these triggers to make the decision difficult, causing the internal conflict. Your character will also experience different emotions from the triggers, including anxiety, fear, confusion or doubt, to name a few. 

This actually creates relatable situations where the audience can relate to the emotion, making the story more engaging. 

But, ultimately, these internal conflicts help to make the story more interesting and help drive the plot. 

Why is internal conflict important? 

Internal conflict is incredibly important when developing your script. It helps you develop the characters fully, allowing you to have multi-dimensional character’s who ultimately become more relatable to the viewer. 

Having relatable characters is essential in filmmaking. You want your audience to buy into your main characters. If they don’t, you’ll have issues. 

If they can’t relate to any of the character’s they’ll simply switch off. Your audience will get bored and lose concentration. 

To keep the audience engaged is to have diverse, intriguing characters that are relatable. This is where internal conflict comes in. 

This is something we all experience in one way or another; it can be a simple decision or, to the extent of question, your own morals. But we all have internal conflict. This is one way to create a relatable character. 

The best way to do this is by developing a character in full and developing both their internal and external conflict. 

You may also be interested in: 15 Incredible Tips For Writing MEMORABLE Characters

How to add internal conflict into your script

Now you understand what internal conflict is and the purpose of it. It is time to incorporate internal conflict into your script. 

Here are a few ways to incorporate the conflict into your script using some examples we gave earlier on. 

Desire 

Desire

This is when your protagonist desires to do something, potentially sacrificing something for the greater good (Including themselves). They may feel so strongly about it that they may lose what’s important to them.

Beliefs 

When your protagonist is torn between what they believe in, even though the choice may be for the greater good, this can be combined with the element of character vs social. 

Your choice may be against your families beliefs, but your protagonist feels so strongly about the relationships, it leaves them with a huge dilemma.

Fear

Fear

When your protagonist is forced into making a decision, but they’re terrified of what this action will entail. They’re pressured into a rash decision that could end up in a catastrophe, but to advance or even survive, they must make that decision and pull the trigger. 

This causes a clear internal (and external) struggle.

Expectation

This is one I find pretty interesting. This is also incredibly relatable. 

Think about it when you were young, or even at present. Have you ever done something because it seems like the societal norm? The answer will be probably. I know I have! 

And that’s the same for your character. They may want to follow a career in acting but their parents and peers see that as too farfetched and that you must study to be a doctor. 

This causes internal conflict as your character wants to follow their dream, but society tells them otherwise. The pressure of their parents and the people around them will be enough to make them decide on the thing they don’t believe in because it’s “The Norm”. 

This is a relatable conflict that we all have, and if you want your viewers to relate, a decision like this goes a very long way. 

Need

Your character needs something that much; they have to make a big decision. This is usually partnered with survival or to better themselves in a way that a decision must be made. 

The need is overpowering their better judgment; however, internally, they question their decision-making, causing a powerful internal conflict. 

How to implement internal conflict correctly?

Consequences are essential when implementing conflict within your script. Whichever way they decide to go, whichever decision they make, there will be some sort of consequence. 

These consequences (also known as stakes) create a lot of tension, and ultimately this is what keeps the viewer gripped throughout. So you want to create decisions that create impactful consequences. 

You want to put yourself in the viewer’s seat; what do you want them to be asking of the plot? 

  • Will, they put it all on the line? 
  • Are they really going to do that? 
  • What path will they choose? 
  • I hope they don’t agree with that? Or it’s game over!

Your character will have to come up with a decision, and whichever trigger pushes them to make that decision is their motivation.

How can you merge both internal and external conflict into your story?

Merge Internal and external conflict

Motivation is usually the cause of the two conflicts intertwine. The internal conflict comes with the decision that may be against their beliefs, whereas the external conflict maybe the people forcing them to make it. 

Naturally, the internal and external conflict will partner with one another, so as long as you’ve decided on the characters’ motivations and decision, the conflict will follow hand in hand. 

Ultimately the conflict will be one of the key aspects for creating a relatable link between the film and the audience. Find that motivation and make the character make a tough decision. It’ll be fun. 

We promise! 

You may also be interested in: External conflict in Screenwriting: The four MAIN types of external conflict

Great examples of internal conflict

Right, I’ve waffled on about what internal conflict is, the purpose and how you implement it. But, let’s get into the good stuff. Here are some of the best examples I could find scouring the archives, and these will give you inspiration. 

They are from a variety of films, but they all nail the internal conflict concept to a tee! 

Without further ado, let’s jump in!

Marlo – Tully

Marlo - Tully

Marlo is played by Charlize Theron and is the protagonist in Tully. She’s giving birth to her third child, who wasn’t planned. When her third child arrives, she begins to struggle to look after all three. 

Marlo is recommended a Nanny to help her, but she’s not too keen and resists. The internal conflict she has is that she wants to look after her children herself and doesn’t want to give in and hire a nanny. 

As she struggles to cope with her decision to hire a nanny (something she feels is against what she believes in as a mother), it begins to take its toll. 

Marlo starts to take out her internal struggles on the nanny in external conflict; this starts to build momentum and pushes the tension to unbearable heights. 

We won’t spoil the end, but it’s brilliant. The films excellent and is one we recommend. 

Buzz Lightyear – Toy Story 

Yep, you didn’t expect this one here, did you!

Well… It’s an incredible example of internal conflict. Buzz is an actual toy, but he isn’t aware he is a toy. The rest of the Toy Story crew, especially Woody, seek to make Buzz realise he’s a toy, which causes one of the most significant bits of internal conflict throughout the movie. 

Why is this relatable? It’s because he’s not accepting of who he actually is, and when he finally realises who he is, Buzz becomes much happier.  

He finally accepts that he is a toy and is much better off that way. 

Cheryl Strayed – Wild

Cheryl Strayed is the protagonist in the film “Wild”, where she sets out to complete a 2,650-mile walk (Pacific Crest Trail). 

There is an apparent external conflict throughout the story. However, the internal conflict is what ups the ante of the story and keeps you engaged. 

Cheryl battles through depression, loneliness, past trauma and conflict within her head. 

As the movie progresses, we see more and more of Cheryl’s internal conflict, which includes flashbacks that showcase her previous struggles. 

Cheryl keeps seeing a fox throughout, which serves as her anchor as she believes it’s her mother watching down upon her. 

We highly recommend watching this film. This showcases internal conflict at its best. A film you will definitely learn a lot from. Don’t miss out!

Other notable examples:

  • Lynn in The Sixth Sense
  • Alan in The Imitation Game
  • Fergus in The Crying Game
  • Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry

The Final Scene

Yep, you guessed it – it’s our little overview of the article.

To sum internal conflict up from the above information and examples. It’s an integral part of the story; it makes your characters relatable to the audience. It causes tension and helps to push the plot along. 

It can partner external conflict well, and the conflict’s inner side helps develop the movie further. You can peel off more layers to each character and drill down to their inner way of thinking. Something that is key to capturing the viewer’s attention. 

Build relatable characters with external and internal conflict to attract the audience and build a challenging but rewarding story. 

We hope this article on “Internal Conflict: Crafting EXCEPTIONAL internal conflict within your script” was used today; let us know your thoughts down below in the comments. 

Scroll down below to read more on developing conflict within your story, as well as crafting exciting characters and gripping stories. 

Happy screenwriting!

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