I love creating characters and my plots generally focus greatly on their inner conflicts and their relationships with other characters (my experience has almost exclusively been writing romance). There is very little external conflict, as the overarching plot is the development of the relationship and is driven by the characters themselves.

However I have a few ideas for fantasy/adventure novels with plots that are driven by an external conflict. While I have a general idea of the plot points, I am finding it difficult to sit down and iron out the details. For example, in a story about the children of the seven Demon Kings of Hell, I know that the children discover their heritage and eventually have to travel to the depths of Hell to fight Satan, but are betrayed by one of their own and must flee back to the land of the living. But I can’t figure out how they get to Hell, or what happens in between which forces them to make the journey in the first place. When I try to take the time to develop the plot some more, I always get distracted by the characters and develop them instead. If I were to just sit down and start writing I would just write endless character interaction and nothing would ever happen. The characters are interesting, but I need them to “do” things. Rather than interacting with each other, I need to get them interacting with the external conflict.

I don’t necessarily think I should give up and only ever write character-based plot, even if this is what comes naturally to me. Does anyone have any advice to give on how to focus my attention on the external conflict?

3 Answers 3


I would suggest that rather than thinking in terms of external conflict rather than internal conflict, you should think in terms of internal conflict caused by external conflict.

In a romance, the story tends to focus caused by the internal conflict between the desire for a romantic relationship and all of the other things each party wants from live. (One must give up their pride, another their prejudice.)

In an adventure there is still internal conflict but it is caused by external forces. Do I risk my life to fight the dragon or abandon my village to be destroyed by the dragon? The dragon is the source of the external conflict, but the conflict that makes the story interesting is the internal struggle between fight and flight. The actual fight with the dragon is just hacking and hewing. It is not interesting in itself. It is the hero's conquest of their fear of facing the dragon that is interesting, and it is in seeing the battle through to the end that the hero proves the transformation that has taken place in them that gave them the courage to face the dragon.

  • @sudowoodo I agree--"internal conflict caused by external conflict"--very valid technique, and so it the opposite--external conflict, caused more or less by internal struggle of a person; a conflicted person will react differently to external stimuli, then more mentally firm individual, often intensifying the external conflict. If the author creates a believable (or suspendable) environment, whether it's a wizard's castle or a powdered sugar desert wasteland, the characters will have to act physically to survive the story, thrown at them.
    – Lew
    May 31, 2017 at 18:22

I am tempted to say that you are in an infinitely better situation than many adventure writers who have a great tally of the most exciting thing happening to their characters, but those characters are lacking personality and, well... character :-)

If developing your cast comes naturally to you, it is great. All you have to do is put them in a situation, where they have no choice than to act physically to overcome a challenge, thrown at them, and you are in the clear.

Creating those physical challenges is much easier than writing a believable person.

Build a wall they have to climb over. Send a squad of assassins after them. Injure them and make them keep going. Capture them and make them find a way to escape decapitation--none of those conflicts can be resolved by talking, crying and kissing where it hurts--and you are golden!

And if your characters manage to pull off some witty and meaningful banter while sawing off the head of the dragon--more power to you.

I would read that story.

Best of luck!


So, I have exactly the same problem with my writing. I'm much more "internally" focused than "externally", and I tend to imagine these intricate relationship twists between my characters (and themselves, and others). But unlike you, I'm primarily interested in Fantasy, so I've had to deal with the problem from the start.

As the other answers have focused on some of the conceptual solutions, let me give one tip that I've used to help me. When I start writing, I have several cool scenes in mind that I want to write - an opening dramatic scene, a fascinating ending etc. My problem is that I have no idea how to get from the opening to the end, and frankly, at first I think it's boring - who cares what adventures they have on the way, when it's only an excuse for the grand ending?

The solution I've found to this (which sometimes works) is to try and write the ending straight away. As you do this, you suddenly realize that the character that reaches this ending is probably not the same one that started the journey - they have grown, learned new skills (e.g., magic, swordfighting), and have scars from places they were hurt (e.g., lost loved ones etc). You know you want to rely on these changes they went through in your ending - it's what makes their choices make sense, and drives the internal, personal drama. So then you start to write the portions that led up to this ending. Suddenly, you will ask yourself questions about THOSE sections - where they took place, how they got there, and so on. Slowly you fill in the gaps.

In your case, for example, you ask "how they get to Hell". Well, it seems to me that entering Hell would not just be a simple thing, and it might cost them a serious personal cost (blood, soul, that sort of stuff). That cost will have internal projections, so in your case, you can address it in reverse: what personal cost do you want them to pay, or be at risk to pay, to make their character more interesting? Once you know that, you can construct the external world to impose that cost/threat.

Anyhow, hope your characters go to hell... ;)

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