Fictional Characters With Personalities That Build Conflict

Posted at 04:05am on 14th February 2010

Conflict is as crucial to the narrative and structure of a novel as characters and dialogue. The author of fiction needs to ensure that the obstacles which prevent a character from achieving the story goal are driven by their own personality, plus that of other characters. That is, the personal relationships through which the characters interact. As I have written in earlier articles, without conflict there is, quite simply, no plot. Read What Makes A Story A Plot? to see what E.M.Forster has to say on the subject.

Consequently, we have been looking, recently, at plot summaries to see how best to use characters to build suspense. In Creating Character Led Conflict In Your Novel, two story scenarios were developed into plot summaries: the first as a simple clash of personalities; the other as a disagreement between two people about how something should be done. The Drama Triangle was the basis for creating fictional characters for both examples.

Today, I’m going to show how difficult circumstances – i.e. something external – may nevertheless become character led conflict. Note that in every story:

  • the protagonist (main character) must have a goal.
  • the obstacles that prevent the fulfilment of that goal provide the conflict.
  • the character’s personality is integral and may become an obstacle, in itself.
  • conflict resolution always creates further obstacles.

Let’s look at the first scenario.

MAIN CHARACTER’S GOAL

Kate’s goal is to assure Terry that despite their recent argument about her desire to jack in her job, she still loves him.

However, in rushing out of the house she twists her ankle, as a result of which she misses the bus. This means that Terry, who is due to join his ship, has already departed by the time she gets to the dock and, when his ship is later blown up, it appears that her goal is unattainable. Until . . .

PLOT DEVELOPMENT

For this little drama, we’ll use a different basis for creating the fictional characters, one based on the free personality test found here on my website.

Character Goal: Let’s suppose that Kate is an ISFJ. In other words, her character may be described as Introverted Sensing with Feeling. This means that her prime goal in life is to be of help and support to others.

Initial Conflict: This is the clash which begins the story, and kicks off everything that follows. Kate’s job is an administrative one in a munitions factory. As an ISFJ, she has a strong work ethic, but feels she is being wasted. What she wants to do to help the war effort is something more practical, more hands-on, like nursing at the front line. Which is precisely what Terry doesn’t want for her.

Series of Obstacles: Initially character led, subsequent conflict is heightened because Kate’s caring nature and sense of responsibility (features of an ISFJ) make her prone to being taken advantage of by those around her. Consequently, she finds it difficult to say No to her friend’s request for help – hence the rush, the twisted ankle, the missed bus and the departed ship. Note that these consequences, which are circumstantial, were all triggered by Kate’s initial character led decision to help her friend.

The ‘friend’, Carol, is in fact the antagonist. Her character, like Kate’s, might be profiled, but for the purpose of this exercise it is irrelevant. What is integral to the plot is that, unknown to Kate (but known to the reader) Carol’s motive in delaying Kate was a desperate bid to break up her marriage, because she has had a one-night stand with Terry and is pregnant. Further suspense is created when Carol becomes Kate’s confidante, the recipient of all her fears and tears.

Building the conflict to a crescendo, Kate learns of the pregnancy, the ‘mystery’ man who has abandoned Carol and, because of her caring personality, she pledges to help her friend. Carol, however, discovering that Terry has been rescued at sea and has been brought, unconscious, to a Naval hospital on the other side of the country, prepares for the final stab in the back. Who will get there first? Kate, to make up with her husband? Or Carol to entice him away?

Do you see how it is not simply external circumstances that create the conflict in this plot outline? Kate’s own personality traits trigger the discord with her husband, and having done so, it is these same qualities which add to the suspense.

© Mel Menzies 2010 - All Rights Reserved

Although many of the articles on this website may be used freely where expressly stated, this one forms part of a series, and may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

NEXT TIME

We’ll take a look at how a fictional character’s personality may create and build the conflict when jealousy is the root.

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Further articles on Creative Writing

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Your Comments:

1st March 2010
at 10:18am

Thank You for the post. I love to read interesting post that has
knowledge to impart. These kinds of post are very helpful to me to
increase my knowledge on different facts about life and other
matters. I hope to read more articles from you and in return I will
post also my articles in the forum so that others can benefit from
it. Keep up the good work!

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