Crafting Conflict: Man vs. Self

“Hi Lizard. How do I write a man vs. self style story that is not one hundred percent woe is me? Something tragic happens to my protagonist and I’m trying not to write hundreds of pages of them moaning on about it.”

In a story where the protagonist’s inner conflicts take center stage, moaning and belaboring a point can happen. The supposed hallmark example of this kind of conflict I always heard growing up is in a recovering alcoholic. He wants a drink but also does not want a drink. With that said, if he were a character in a novel, you might only get a scene of that at most.


The plot of the novel has to draw out the inner conflict in the characters. It cannot exist in a bubble. So I’m not a huge fan of the recovering alcoholic example, let’s talk Disney movies. Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled is a great example of a character with major inner conflict. She wants to leave her tower and be free, but she also doesn’t want to hurt Mother Gothel who has been keeping her there. Sure, we know there’s more to the story and want Rapunzel to leave the tower, but still, she’s conflicted.

Moving onto vampire stories. I love vampire stories and they tend to be chock full of inner conflict with their thinly-veiled metaphors for addiction. Vampires like to drink blood, but they also don’t want to kill or take advantage of unsuspecting innocents. How do they get their fix without delving into deep moral dilemmas? Many writers have come up with ways to get around that, but really where the conflict we’re talking about today is in the vampires that can’t just rob a blood bank.

So, say you’re writing about a hungry vampire who wants more than anything to be a good person and not ruin someone’s day, but at the same time, he’s starving. He fantasizes taking a bite out of every person he sees on the street. That’s cool and all, but hasn’t it been done? Yeah. We’ve seen it before. So, let’s take this plot up a notch and bring this inner struggle more to the surface.

So, maybe this story isn’t set in modern day, but Victorian London. This vampire is trying very hard to be an upstanding member of society. He finds a wife, joins a club, and plays croquet every other early morning with a prominent doctor in town. But one day, his wife is ailing and he asks his doctor-friend what to do. He suggests bloodletting. He’ll come over and do it himself as a friend. His wife agrees that it sounds like a good course of treatment. The science, they say, is all there. When his wife asks that he stay and hold her hand through the treatment though, he can’t help but say he will.

He is surrounded by the two people who know him best, watching his very fragile, mortal wife bleeding out. He has to sort through how to control himself and keep from revealing his vampirism, while still obviously wanting to eat his wife, right in front of his friend. This is how the story can exacerbate the conflict.

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