Conflict drives the plot of your story and gives your characters mountains to climb and fears to overcome. Conflict is the drama that will pull everything together in your novel. It can bring characters together and pull them apart. It is the tension in your story, and when well written, it evokes the emotions of your readers.
Internal conflict is the dilemma a character deals with inside. Internal conflict impacts the behavior of your character. Writers often choose internal conflicts that are universal to readers. This can be your character’s needs, desires, beliefs, or turmoil. This war inside each of your characters makes them act and react in complex ways. Past experiences will have affected your characters psyches. Drama and change is the result when your characters confront their vulnerabilities. You can show internal conflict through internal dialogue, but it’s much more effective if you show your characters responding to their own inner compulsions through action. Internal conflict allows for character growth and adds meaning and complexity to the external conflict.
External conflict forces your characters to make internal choices and changes. The key to tension in your novel is to give your characters choices that must be made. These choices then have consequences for your characters. An antagonist in a story forces your hero/heroine to make these choices. The antagonist delves into your characters internal conflict. Keep in mind that an antagonist doesn’t have to be some super villain; it can be society, a new job, an illness, or a natural disaster, the imagination is endless.
Conflict must be resolved and every layer you create will need closure. Stories without conflict don’t teach us anything. Readers want to read about your characters ordeals and how they overcome their conflicts. Your hero/heroine should be victorious and changed for the better. If your characters don’t evolve, then your story is flat and you need to work on conflict to create emotion. Always remember too much of anything is never good and too much conflict can exhaust your readers.