How Knowing Core Conflict Helps Writing

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woman looking out the window

I’ve heard it many times, so I can’t tell you chapter and verse, but the key to creating believable, fascinating characters is to know their inner conflict. Know it. Dwell on it. Name it in one sentence.

As soon as I began to think about my main character’s inner conflict, writing became easier. Matter of fact, Death In Bagheria was a delight to write. It was as if Serafina took over my fingers while I sat sipping my coffee and listening to the click of the keys.

She is a wily sleuth, Serafina, who by this time—her third book—is comfortable in her skin. Oh, she has her faults, jealousy and control being two that come to mind.

And she deals with loads of external conflict. Consider her country in the 1860s and 70s. Sicily was on the brink of disaster—famine, corruption, crippling taxes, bandits, organized crime, epidemics. You name it, Serafina had it all, in addition to her own private villains. Like many in its class, Serafina’s family was losing its power, losing its money, losing its status. They were about to be decimated. But in this book, Serafina owns her investigative power and is able to stave off penury, no thanks to Don Tigro, local mafia capo who stands at the ready to offer Serafina assistance for her friendship.

If Serafina often agonizes in the book, it is because of her inner conflict. Like many women in the late nineteenth century, she grapples with this question: does a woman enjoy the fullness of humanity? Is a woman a being in her own right, or is she merely a wife, a mother, another kind of chattel?  Can she own the pleasure of an affair? It is this question which is at the core of Death In Bagheria, the conflict that will add to her feeling of dislocation when she emigrates to a harsh land, her pain at losing a child, her agony at growing old, the conflict that makes her unique. She may be free of it for a moment or two, perhaps even a day. But it will always come back to haunt her. Deeper than bones, it will remain, long after the rest of her has returned to the earth.

Photo: Woman looking out the window. Sicily.

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  1. says

    Oh yes inner conflicts are rich, aren’t they…not only for our characters. Serafina sounds so interesting and her questions about womanhood resonate today as well. I’m going to have to pick up and read this series (three did you say?). Such an effective post to make me want to buy your book!
    BTW–I blog about conflict. The real everyday, because we’re human kind. I tell my other writer friends, “Just have your characters do the opposite of what I suggest, and you’ll have great conflicts in your stories.”

    • says

      Inner conflicts! How I wish I knew myself as well as I know Serafina, but then, she surprises me, too. Thanks so much for your reply, Jagoda. Yes, I looked at your site and love it. The name, Conflict Tango, is wonderful!

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