Stories need conflict, and one of the best ways to add conflict is through the characters and their personalities, motivations, goals, and backstories.
This is because with characters you can have 2 kinds of conflict, external and internal.
How to Add External Conflict
Using Personality Traits
Writing characters that have personality traits that don’t fit together well can be a fun way to add drama and conflict within your story. Our personalities also influence the way we act, so conflicting personalities can even impact the plot.
One of the best ways to do this is to give characters personality traits that are different, but not complete opposites.
Here’s a list of personality traits that can create conflict:
- Altruistic / Cynical
- Shy / Outspoken
- Vain / Frugal
- Arrogant / Controlling
- Disloyal / Needy
- Rowdy / Haughty
- Weak-willed / Fanatical
- Melodramatic / Inhibited
- Hardworking / Relaxed
- Modest / Confident
- Superstitious / Analytical
The key with creating external conflict with characters’ personality traits is to push the characters to their limits, both with the extent of their traits and how much they can tolerate each other’s personalities.
Giving characters conflicting goals is a great way to create conflict, especially if both characters are very driven to achieve those goals.
I find this conflict even juicier if the characters are on the same side in the story, rather than on opposing sides.
For example, 2 characters could have the same motivation (like doing what’s best to protect innocent civilians) and have different, even opposite, goals on how to achieve that.
They could still be working together because they have the same motivation, but the different goals will add conflict.
Or you could do the opposite, and go for different motivations, but the same goals.
While this is used a lot with characters who are on the same side or team of a story, I think it would be very interesting to see this done more with characters who are on opposite sides of the story.
How to Add Internal Conflict
Using Personality Traits
You can give a character conflicting personality traits. Humans are strange beings, and often we have contradictory traits within our own personalities.
For example, I would consider myself to be a lazy yet driven person. This is because I have goals, and I work hard to achieve them, but I’m always trying to find the path of least resistance.
I use this lazyness to my own advantage and make things so that the path of least resistance is working. Just disconnecting the wires from my video game console will keep me from playing for a few weeks, because I can’t be bothered to reconnect them.
And I’m not the only one who has contradictory personality traits; I’ve met people who are simultaneously narcissistic and self-deprecating. I’ve met others who are relaxed, but obsessive.
Most people have conflicting personality traits, as that’s what makes us human.
It is also entirely possible for one person to have multiple goals that conflict with each other. In fact it’s very common.
This doesn’t have to be because one character has forced their goals onto another character. Sometimes a person will want different things, and that’s okay.
Sometimes backstories, especially ones that involve trauma, bad mental health, and poor physical health, can create lots of conflict for a character.
Even though I am doing much better with my mental health than I was 2 years ago, there are still times where I remember things that happened to me during my rough year and I just crumble.
There are lots of ways to create conflict using characters, so if you’re currently planning out a story, try planning out your characters so that they add conflict to the story.
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