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Character Conflict in Fiction

The KCWC blog team hopes you have enjoyed the first two posts in this series. For this week, here is the conclusion to our three-part guest post on goals, motivation, and conflict in fiction.

GMC: Part 3 – Conflict

Guest Post by Crystal Caudill

Goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC) are the basic building blocks for any fiction piece you write. In this three-part series, we will break down each component for both the newbie writer and the experienced writer. So far, we have looked at goals (read this post)  and motivation (read this post). This week we are examining conflict.


So what is conflict? If goal is the “what” and motivation is the “why,” then conflict is the “why not.” Conflict is what your character must face in order to achieve their goal.

External conflict often comes in the form of a physical being, usually the villain. The villain’s goals are in direct opposition to the hero or heroine. To keep the hero from reaching his goal, the villain will create obstacles and problems that the hero must overcome. The best villains come to life on the page. All five senses are engaged when dealing with this maniacal menace. You can smell them, see them, feel them, hear them, and, depending on what is going on, taste the blood they draw.

To put it simply, external conflict is the conflict you can physically see on the movie screen.

Internal conflict is more subtle. This is the emotional conflict within your character. Often, these are two values the character holds close in conflict with each other. For example, a heroine may value being with family and personal safety. However, if visiting her family puts her safety at risk because she knows a dangerous person will be there, she has to decide which matters more.

There are also internal conflicts that stem from the emotional side of themselves. Perhaps it is the self-conscious voice that keeps them from seeing their worth. Or it is the guilt of not being there for a loved one when they were needed most? The character is at war within themselves. Though movies try their best to display this inner struggle, movies usually fall short. This is why many people say books are better than the movie. There’s an added layer of connection and conflict that keeps your reader engaged.

Why include conflict?

Readers like to see characters tested, run through the wringer, and facing their worst fears. Anticipating an explosion of conflict is what keeps the reader turning the pages. Conflict brings growth and change to your characters. It reveals who they are, how they view themselves in light of God and teaches them lessons that cannot be accomplished any other way.

When characters go through conflict to pursue their goal, it brings depth and complexity to their lives. Who they were at the beginning of the story are not who they are at the end of the story. They learn to dig within themselves, grow and rise to the challenge. Through conflict, they become a hero. 

Think something is bad? Make it worse.

So how do you make the conflict engaging and page-turning? Strife, tension, friction, and opposition are key elements in creating conflict. Start with making a list of ten obstacles that could stand in your character’s way. See if you can make each progressively worse. Like with motivation and stakes, the worse things are, the more your character has to overcome.

The stronger your conflict, the stronger your story.

Application Questions:

  1. What is your character’s goal?
  2. What is their motivation (why they want it)?
  3. What physical things can stand in their way?
  4. What emotional things can stand in their way?
  5. How can you make the situation progressively worse? 


Goal, Motivation, and Conflict are the intertwined basis for every story. If you can develop compelling goals with strong motivations and even stronger conflicts, then you will have a solid foundation for a story that will engage and enthrall your readers.

Crystal Caudill is an award-winning historical romance author with a flair for danger. She is a member of RWA and ACFW, a monthly contributor to, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. Her debut novel will release early 2022 from Kregel Publishing.

Connect with Crystal at her website:

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