When readers discuss novels or talk about a short story, the external struggle is usually the first thing mentioned. For example: "It's about this man whose wife and child were killed by a serial killer; and while seeking revenge, he uses his keen people reading skills to solve crimes."
But all of the stories on your nightstand or in draft on your computer or saved on your DVR should (and probably do) have a protagonist that has an internal struggle. An internal struggle is just as important as the external one. Does your protagonist lack self-confidence, suffer from greedy tendencies, or fear falling in love? What does your character struggle with in the middle of the night, when alone and looking in?
Think about your own internal struggles--most of us have more than one and most of them come from something in our past that has happened externally. Think about how you act in certain situations where you feel uncomfortable or how you go about making an important decision--most likely how you behave stems from your internal struggle. The characters in the fiction you are writing need to have an internal struggle that you as the writer know and understand AND that affects most of the decisions in your story.
So before writing any more on your work-in-progress, here's an exercise you can do to be certain you have thought through these two struggles. Write down or type out the following:
1. My protagonist's external struggle (s) is _______________________________.
2. He/she solves this external struggle (or problem) by _____________________________________.
3. My protagonist's internal struggle (s) is _________________________________________.
4. Throughout the novel, this internal struggle will cause problems because __________________.
5. In the end of the novel, the internal struggle will _______________________________. (example: not be solved, but cause my protagonist to take a chance on love he normally would not have)
Once you have these five points clear in your head, I believe your writing will be stronger for the reader and easier for you. If you're having trouble filling out those five sentences, then try the exercise on a couple of your favorite novels or TV shows before you tackle your own work-in-progress.
Just remember, of course, everyone loves a hero who slays the dragon and saves the princess. But everyone really adores the hero who overcomes his fear of facing a dragon, then slays it, and saves the princess.
Margo L. Dill teaches novel writing and children's and YA writing in the WOW! classroom. To find out more about her and her books, please check out her website: http://www.margodill.com .
keyboard photo above by orangeacid on Flickr.com