Teenagers aren’t known for being easy. Yet, the genre that focuses on the lives of teenagers is highly popular and relatable--even for those outside the age-range. The reason boils down to two important, game-changing words: internal conflict.
What is internal conflict?
Simply put, internal conflict is the reason why external conflict (or the plot) matters. See, external conflict is what happens to the character, but internal conflict is why it matters. It’s all about the internal struggles your character is facing. In real life, internal conflict could be debating whether to get up or go to sleep or trying to overcome a certain flaw when the external forces in your life are pushing against it.
In literature, internal conflict is also a plot device that can be bent and multi-purposed to properly serve the story. Don’t limit yourself to a single definition, because internal conflict can be a dozen other things if you choose it to be, from tension, character development, stakes and obstacles.
Why is internal conflict important in Young Adult fiction?
The Young Adult Genre (or YA) by definition is, well, about young adults. For the most part, it’s teenagers reading about teenagers.
Having internal conflict in a genre such as this, internalizes struggles that teens face. It takes all the bad decisions they make and gives it a reason, a fight and a why.
As Neil Gaiman said, in his book Art Matters, “Fiction is a lie that tells the truth.” By reading YA fiction, readers are put into a make-belief world with make-belief characters in make-belief situations and through all this make-belief they can learn the truth. Readers can see the internal conflict teenagers face, in a way that makes both teens and adults relate.
Teenagehood is all about growing up, feeling new emotions and learning more about yourself and the world. Internal conflict takes all these common teenage struggles and fits them into a narrative in a way that makes readers care.
Claire Bradshaw, in her article about mastering conflict in Young Adult fiction, wrote:
“Authors of YA fiction are drawn to the genre for a reason. Writing for young people isn’t a random decision; it’s a conscious choice to explore a period of life that’s immeasurably important to a person’s identity and future. There’s nothing more rewarding than fostering a sense of connection with readers, and by exploring the conflict of youth thoroughly and convincingly in your writing, you’ll be able to do just that.”
Examples of internal conflict in popular YA reads
In the popular dystopian novel, The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is thrust into a deadly game where she must try and survive. That’s the main external conflict: her trying to survive with several obstacles being thrown in her way. What makes the age-old survival plot so compelling is the way Suzanne Collins weaves the internal into the external. On the outside, Katniss may just be trying to survive but on the inside, she is battling with the guilt of having to kill and to harm to keep her family safe. Her moral values are in conflict with each other--how far would she go to save herself and her family?
Similarly, in the popular first installment of Harry Potter, Harry’s internal conflict is feeling like an outsider. From his interactions with the Dursleys, he feels as if he does not have a place in the muggle world but still finds it hard to fit in with the wizards. Externally, he’s dealing with classes and a new setting and the looming threat of he-who-must-not-be-named but on the inside, he struggles to find his true family. With his parents dead and his not-so-nice living relatives, he feels he can’t fit in anywhere. The first book is primarily about Harry learning about his background and trying to fit into this weird, new environment.
Without the internal conflict, these popular books would just be stories of hard things happening to the character again and again. Without external conflict, the internal conflict wouldn’t be rationalized and perhaps never overcome. The two balance each other out and together, they’re both essential to crafting a gripping YA narrative.
Tips to nail the internal conflict in your own story
Here are some simple tips and questions to ask yourself to add some internal conflict to your own story.
There are several ways you can use internal conflict to grip your readers into your story and make them care. By using internal conflict in your Young Adult fiction, you can take your powerful events, scenarios and characters and make them matter to your reader.
first ventured into the world of writing with her sister. Since then, she has gone to explore different genres and styles: short fiction, literary fiction and most recently, non-fiction. When she’s not writing she can be found spending time with family, going on walks, or watching the latest grammar videos. Follow her on Instagram @mashalashfaqofficial.