Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass gets serious with Chapter 3, titled 'Inner Conflict.' This is where he guides you into digging deep and adding layers. The chapter starts with a paragraph that strikes lightning:

"A step beyond the technique of adding character dimensions is investing your protagonist with two goals, needs, wants, longings, yearnings, or desires that are in direct opposition to each other. Wanting two things that are mutually exclusive means having inner conflict, being torn in two directions, and that is what makes a character truly memorable."

Did you feel the same WOW! I felt reading that? These are the gems that make the book great. As Maass expands on this and gives several examples, you can see these aren't easy choices. Here's one I just thought of: Choosing between doing what makes you happy (tuba playing for the local opera, perhaps) or marrying your soul mate and living a life that you fear will stifle you. That would be a killer choice for me. Then throw another complication into the mix. You're pregnant! (Not you, of course. The character. But let's pretend.) I can think of complication after complication to go with this conflict.

One of Maass's examples is Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake. Blake is a court-sanctioned vampire killer whose love interest is a French master vampire. She's also still has feelings for her ex-fiance, an alpha werewolf of a local pack. (This was true when Maass's book was written. I don't know if any of this has changed.)

That's two conflicts: Enforcing the law vs. caring about vampires. Vampire vs. werewolf. There's a third. She's a committed Christian, yet she has sex with vampires and werewolves.

Awesome conflicts.

At the end of the third chapter is an exercise where you write down two things your character wants that are opposite of one another. In the example I used, if the hero gave up his life to live with the heroine, that wouldn't work because he'd be miserable. Yet if she left her tuba-playing life to be with him, she'd be miserable. So what if she doesn't tell him about the child? What if she stays where she is and finds a perfectly acceptable life being a single, tuna-playing mom, though not deliriously happy? What if he goes home and marries someone who can't have children? What if he has prostrate cancer and ...

What if I stop now before I get a plot that I don't want to write? LOL

In my wip, my heroine risked her life to find freedom. Now she's settled into a new, safe life -- and it's in danger. She wants to stay, almost more than anything, but if she stays, lives are at stake and they might lose their freedom, not just because they might be in danger. That's only one of several inner conflicts.

What dueling conflicts do you have in one of your books? Is it simple, or do you expand on it?

I hope you'll read Karen White's terrific guest blog below. I goofed and was supposed to post my blog next week, so now there are two blogs today. So next week I'm still up and will blog about larger-than-life characters.


  1. Cyrano // May 13, 2009 at 6:58 AM  

    I absolutely love Donald Maass's workbook. It's a writer's bible. Every chapter I had a WOW moment. Every sentence gave me inspiration.
    I've practically highlighted the whole darn thing in pink and yellow and the questions at the end of each chapter were so thought provoking to me I couldn't wait to answer them.
    Thanks for sharing this with everyone.
    Those of you reading this comment, if you haven't bought Writing the break out novel workbook run out and get one. It will motivate you beyond reason.
    Have a great writing day,

  2. Judy // May 13, 2009 at 9:52 AM  

    Great, Edie! I love that you're doing this series! Thanks

  3. LaDonna // May 13, 2009 at 1:04 PM  

    Edie, I have the book and workbook but haven't delved into them yet. I want to finish my WIP first! lol.

    For me, inner conflict reveals itself as my characters develop. I love watching them resolve their problems, and usually surprised how it all works out.

  4. Toni V.S. // May 13, 2009 at 1:31 PM  

    I also have a copy of that book and now, I'm inspired to read it. As for Anita Blake's love life--it's so wild now, I quit reading the books. Her so-called ardeur is running amok with anything and everything in sight. She should have stayed with Jean-Claude!

  5. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 1:45 PM  

    Cyrano, I absolutely agree about Maass's book being a writer's bible. He has a new book out right now. I read an excerpt and it looks great, too.

  6. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 1:47 PM  

    Judy, it's good for me to go through the chapters like this. It helps etch it into my brain. lol

  7. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 1:49 PM  

    LaD, this is a great book to read while revising, so reading it after you're done with your first draft is good. It will help you up the tension, the characterizations and the plot.

  8. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 1:56 PM  

    Gosh, Toni, you need to read this book. You'll be glad you did.

    I've heard that about the Anita Blake books. Very kinky.

  9. Karin Tabke // May 13, 2009 at 2:55 PM  

    In MASTER of TORMENT the conflict as simple. she wanted to live at all costs and he was sent to kill her.

    in MASTER of CRAVING, which releases later this month, she is an honorable betrothed princess who marries a powerful jarl, my hero, not the jarl, wants her at all costs, *and* will have her. at all costs.

    I always know before I begin my story what my characters' goals are and how far they will go to have it.

  10. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 3:42 PM  

    Karin, you're very smart. Conflict is queen. :)

  11. Pamela Varnado // May 13, 2009 at 4:23 PM  

    Loved your insight into chapter three of Donald Maass's book. I can see where I can add internal conflict into the book I'm working on right now. You words of wisdom inspired me to read the book for a second time.

  12. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 4:45 PM  

    Pamela, very cool! But they're Donald Maass's words of wisdom, not mine.

  13. Marcia Colette // May 13, 2009 at 6:59 PM  

    I make it a point to have GMCs clearly outlined as soon as possible. It makes the rest of the story flow so easily. Not only that, but I get to know my characters even better and see what they're really made of.

    In SEDUCTION ON THE PROWL, my heroine wants to find her missing uncle. The hero wants to find him too, but only to kill him.

    In STRIPPED, my amnesiac heroine wants her life back, but doesn't have a clue of where to start or who to trust.

  14. Mary Ricksen // May 13, 2009 at 7:13 PM  

    I gotta get this book!

  15. Scarlet Pumpernickel // May 13, 2009 at 8:12 PM  

    I like the way Maass lays it out. I ususally find all the technical stuff confusing and wind up with huh? But this isn't hard to understand. Thanks for sharing.


  16. Nancy // May 13, 2009 at 8:34 PM  

    Edie, what a wonderful job of highlighting Maas's conflict chapter - kudos!

    I need to go read this again, and break out the workbook ... uh, unless I loaned it out. Which is possible.

    Like Marcia, I get my GMCs lined up from the start, then dig a bit deeper for what forces have shaped my characters - digging for more conflict. In LA VIDA VAMPIRE, my heroine wants to establish a normal life among humans, and the hero comes along wanting to nail her for a murder.

    As that story and the sequel progressed, it was clear that my vampire's yearn for normality means she doesn't want to use her vamp powers, yet the hero insists she embrace those powers.

    Conflict. Good stuff! *G*

    Nancy Haddock

  17. Toni V.S. // May 13, 2009 at 8:36 PM  

    Is this the same book that offered on Maass' website as a free download?

  18. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 11:32 PM  

    Marcia, I'm so eager to read Stripped! This is the first I've heard of Seduction on the Prowl. Sexy title!

    I have a conflict before I start the book, but I don't always have opposite conflicts for each person. I realize with my wip, I have it for both my heroine and hero. I like that.

  19. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 11:33 PM  

    Mary, yes, you do need to get his book! Go buy it. lol

  20. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 11:34 PM  

    Scarlet, Maass is great. I'm eager to read his newest book.

  21. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 11:37 PM  

    Nancy, I hope you find the Workbook. The conflicts you had in La Vida Vampire worked for me! The Last Vampire Standing is on the counter by my frig. I'm starting it tomorrow!

  22. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 11:38 PM  

    Toni, I believe he offered an earlier book as a free download.

  23. Therese Walsh // May 14, 2009 at 9:35 AM  

    Great post, Edie. And I love Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel -- so many gems.

  24. Edie Ramer // May 14, 2009 at 9:41 AM  

    Therese, I read a lot of books on writing and so far this is the best.

  25. Nightingale // May 14, 2009 at 2:32 PM  

    I'll have to keep this in mind whilst rewriting my WIP. It was finished until the house was burglarized and my computer stolen! Thanks Edie for sharing this info with us.

  26. Edie Ramer // May 14, 2009 at 2:40 PM  

    OMG! Nightingale, how horrible. You back up on the internet now, right? I hope so!