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Thread: How much internal conflict do you reckon a YA book needs?

  1. #1
    Back From My Self-Imposed Exile Kindness's Avatar
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    How much internal conflict do you reckon a YA book needs?

    I'm talking about the bare minimum. I've seen maybe two or three blog posts (on agents' blogs) about how YA stories should focus heavily on the MC's internal journey, and how external circumstances should really be there to cause some kind of growth by the end. I always thought that kind of thing was a staple of coming-of-age stories, though :S

    This is from Lauren Ruth's blog:
    I would reject it because [character name] has no internal struggle and doesn’t appear to face the same challenges that teens face. All the conflict is external and I like to see interplay between external and internal conflict in YA.
    Does this mean that agents prefer novels where there's a fair focus on the inside of the character? Most of my stories focus on external circumstances and only touch on the MC's internal issues when something major comes up, like friction between the MC and another character or issues with the love interest. I've never really given much thought to weaving a significant internal arc through any of my stories...

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW amschilling's Avatar
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    I think they look for internal struggle because that translates to character change/growth, and if a character doesn't change or grow then what's the point of the story?

    It may be especially important in YA because most real teens are still figuring out who they are and how the world works. A teen who doesn't change inside, who doesn't struggle with who they are and how they fit, or who doesn't question anything, is a teen who's not very real IMO.

    It was actually a bit of a problem in my first book. I wrote my MC to be very confident and secure in who she was, and who wasn't bothered by what other people might think of her. It was just her running around dealing with these external things and being sarcastic, but not changing at all. I was told repeatedly that I didn't torture her enough, and since her whole world turns upside down in the story--it was urban fantasy and she was constantly dodging vamps trying to eat her and fairies trying to kill her--the only torture they could have meant was internal.
    Last edited by amschilling; 03-09-2012 at 06:27 PM.
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  3. #3
    This is not a user title Deizelcore's Avatar
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    The inner conflict is what makes a good YA book good. Like amschilling said, ". . . if a character doesn't change or grow then what's the point of the story?"

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  4. #4
    Back From My Self-Imposed Exile Kindness's Avatar
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    Isn't it possible for an MC to change without growing, though? For example, my MC changes from a boy who is afraid of fighting to a boy who fights for his friends (sounds a bit cheesy out of context) but it's not a matter of growth; he just comes to understand that the people around him would die for him, and so they deserve the same kind of devotion. His opinion of them has changed, and so his behaviour toward also changed. He doesn't struggle to come to this decision over the course of the book. In fact, most of what he feels during the story is awe/wonder ><

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW Stiger05's Avatar
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    Isn't it possible for an MC to change without growing, though?
    The only way I can think of to change without growing is to regress. I guess there could be characters that change for the worse by the end of the book (i.e. falling in with the wrong crowd or giving up) but it feels like there needs to be some sort of change for the better and growth or else what's the point? Why did you write the story or tell about that character? It would be like reading "Old Yeller" with Travis constantly hating Yeller and having no problem shooting her at the end. Who would want to read that?

    Kindness, I disagree with your take on your MC (aren't I ballsy? haha). Just from your description, I see that as growth. Your MC grew from a selfish coward into a selfless fighter. He learned that his friends were worthy of his devotion and changed his attitude toward them. How is that not growth?
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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW amschilling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stiger05 View Post
    Kindness, I disagree with your take on your MC (aren't I ballsy? haha). Just from your description, I see that as growth. Your MC grew from a selfish coward into a selfless fighter. He learned that his friends were worthy of his devotion and changed his attitude toward them. How is that not growth?
    Agree. What you describe is not only change but growth.
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  7. #7
    Back From My Self-Imposed Exile Kindness's Avatar
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    Ah, okay So I guess it's just my definition that's messed up. Would you still say that an internal struggle of some sort is necessary, or is that totally up to the writer?

  8. #8
    You can't sit with us! missesdash's Avatar
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    Yeah it's definitely personal growth. The issue is that you have to show it while it happens. People don't just flip from afraid to fight to all about it. Change is a process and it is initially resisted. That's the internal struggle.

    Not showing that struggle makes your characters flat.

  9. #9
    Professor of applied misanthropy Drachen Jager's Avatar
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    I would say personal growth only comes after internal conflict.

    In your example, the boy who is afraid of lightning needs to dig deep within himself to fight that fear. What is that if not internal conflict?

    However, in general I believe the more internal conflict you can work into YA the better the novel works. That's true to a degree with all fiction, but because YA is about the struggles between childhood and adulthood it's doubly true.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW Stiger05's Avatar
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    I agree that there needs to be a good internal struggle to keep your characters three-dimensional. The internal struggle doesn't have to be the main plot though. I think it's fine if the main story is the external struggle, but the internal struggle is what motivates the character to act in different ways throughout the book.

    This is something I'll admit I struggle with. I'm extremely logical, so it's hard for me to write characters who do illogical things. I have to dig deep and make them act in manners that extend beyond their external circumstance, which may not always be logical depending on what's going on within them at the time. Does that make sense?
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  11. #11
    Fantasy Author Elaine Isaak's Avatar
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    I find that the most compelling works (YA or otherwise) are those in which the internal and external conflicts are intertwined. I.E., the MC *cannot* overcome the external conflict without confronting (and usually surmounting) the internal stuff holding him back from his goals.
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  12. #12
    King of the Kitties Quentin Nokov's Avatar
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    Is that the difference between static and dynamic characters? I'm sure your character has internal struggle, you're just not focusing on it. Write a list of what you think is going on internally with your characters and obstacles he must get over. For example, by MC who must save the day is afraid of guns and dogs and must overcome that fear besides other things.
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  13. #13
    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    As a minimum I think about twenty-five. I think if you push it higher than thirty you can run into problems.

  14. #14
    Back From My Self-Imposed Exile Kindness's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drachen Jager View Post
    However, in general I believe the more internal conflict you can work into YA the better the novel works. That's true to a degree with all fiction, but because YA is about the struggles between childhood and adulthood it's doubly true.
    Awww, I was really hoping that that was only a requirement for coming-of-age. I used to think that YA was a place where you were allowed to blend MG whimsy with adult sexuality/darkness and that the whole growing-up thing wasn't necessary D: But after YA got popular all these story guidelines have started popping up T^T I feel like it's gotten a bit stricter, based on previous successes. Which makes sense, but... you know... T^T

    Quote Originally Posted by Stiger05 View Post
    This is something I'll admit I struggle with. I'm extremely logical, so it's hard for me to write characters who do illogical things. I have to dig deep and make them act in manners that extend beyond their external circumstance, which may not always be logical depending on what's going on within them at the time. Does that make sense?
    Yeah, I have this exact same problem. I have trouble coming up with and zooming in on emotional issues. It's a bit difficult for me to depict an internal struggle without it feeling artificial, wangsty or purposefully stretched out xO

    Quote Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
    As a minimum I think about twenty-five. I think if you push it higher than thirty you can run into problems.
    Crap, I've only got 24.5 :P

  15. #15
    Professor of applied misanthropy Drachen Jager's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kindness View Post
    Awww, I was really hoping that that was only a requirement for coming-of-age. I used to think that YA was a place where you were allowed to blend MG whimsy with adult sexuality/darkness and that the whole growing-up thing wasn't necessary D: But after YA got popular all these story guidelines have started popping up T^T I feel like it's gotten a bit stricter, based on previous successes. Which makes sense, but... you know... T^T
    Pretty much all YA is coming-of-age to one degree or another (maybe not becoming 'adult' but certainly about maturing), I would argue that's part of what defines it as YA lit. Struggle and conflict are what make great stories and there is no greater time of turmoil in the average life in the Western World than adolescence. If you're not taking advantage of that you might as well not write YA fiction at all.

    It would be almost like setting a novel in 1944 Germany, but never mentioning the war.

  16. #16
    Back From My Self-Imposed Exile Kindness's Avatar
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    I dunno, I feel like most of these definitions are created by adults without the target group's consent. Adults decide how childrens' stories should avoid certain themes and instill certain values, and so children wind up reading those stories, but they may not necessarily be what all children want to read. The same with YA... I doubt the average teenager stops to decide that they want to see a character 'grow up' (I know I didn't), I just wanted someone I could identify with to experience something I was interested in (even if that did happen to be overcoming some kind of flaw and essentially growing up). Tonnes of YAs enjoy adult fiction, and there isn't much coming-of-age in that. I guess I'm really writing adult fiction targetted at YAs (written with YA themes and YA characters, for relatability), and so it kind of sucks that the whole growing up thing is a requirement. I'm only writing what I wished was available to me at that time. I do agree with YAs needing to learn the ropes, but that's more to do with being realistic (because YA MCs are younger and so will generally lack experience).

    EDIT: I don't have anything against coming-of-age type growth, btw, I do like it, but I'd just rather it wasn't a requirement xD

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Stiger05's Avatar
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    so it kind of sucks that the whole growing up thing is a requirement.
    I don't see growth as "growing up." Sure, in most YA there is a measure of "growing up" and coming of age as well as personal growth, but you see growth in adult novels as well. I used the example of "Old Yeller" earlier but the same concept applies across the board. Characters grow, regardless of age. If there was no development, there would no book. For example, I recently finished John Grisham's new book "The Litigators" about a bunch of ambulance chasing lawyers and one fed up corporate attorney. Over the course of the novel they dug deeper into ambulance chasing than ever, failed miserably, and saw the error in dirty lawyering. The corporate guy left his firm and found his own path. By the end of the book, all the characters changed and grew from their old selves.

    It reminds me of a Jimmy Buffett song (don't judge!) "I'm growing older but not up."
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  18. #18
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kindness View Post
    I dunno, I feel like most of these definitions are created by adults without the target group's consent. Adults decide how childrens' stories should avoid certain themes and instill certain values, and so children wind up reading those stories, but they may not necessarily be what all children want to read. The same with YA... I doubt the average teenager stops to decide that they want to see a character 'grow up' (I know I didn't), I just wanted someone I could identify with to experience something I was interested in (even if that did happen to be overcoming some kind of flaw and essentially growing up). Tonnes of YAs enjoy adult fiction, and there isn't much coming-of-age in that. I guess I'm really writing adult fiction targetted at YAs (written with YA themes and YA characters, for relatability), and so it kind of sucks that the whole growing up thing is a requirement. I'm only writing what I wished was available to me at that time. I do agree with YAs needing to learn the ropes, but that's more to do with being realistic (because YA MCs are younger and so will generally lack experience).

    EDIT: I don't have anything against coming-of-age type growth, btw, I do like it, but I'd just rather it wasn't a requirement xD
    character change and growth != coming-of-age story

    A bildungsroman is about a particular kind of character growth.

    Pretty much all genres expect some kind of internal conflict, and for characters to change, and probably to grow in some way. It's not unique to coming-of-age stories.
    (a blog.) ...last updated 15 June 2015

  19. #19
    we're gonna make it out of the fire The_Ink_Goddess's Avatar
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    Isn't it possible to change without conflict, though?
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  20. #20
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The_Ink_Goddess View Post
    Isn't it possible to change without conflict, though?
    Sure, but it's boring.
    (a blog.) ...last updated 15 June 2015

  21. #21
    You can't sit with us! missesdash's Avatar
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    Growing in terms of character development simply means evolving. When you take a character from the beginning of the story to the end, they generally come to realize something and the idea will fundamentally change who they are.

    I don't think you're avoiding seriousness, I think you're avoiding complexity.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW Stiger05's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by The_Ink_Goddess
    Isn't it possible to change without conflict, though?
    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Sure, but it's boring.

    Exactly. Besides, how many people do you know change without any sort of conflict? Most people don't just wake up and say "I think I'm going to stop being a selfish coward today and stand up for my friends." There has to be some catalyst to cause this change, be it an external "holy crap my friends are about to die" or an internal "I feel this strange growing guilty feeling that my friends always stand up for me but I don't reciprocate." Something initiates the change and that something is conflict.
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  23. #23
    You can't sit with us! missesdash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The_Ink_Goddess View Post
    Isn't it possible to change without conflict, though?
    I don't think it's possible to fundamentally change without some type of conflict. Conflict can be 'man vs himself' obviously, so the conflict can be entirely internal.

    But you don't have a story without conflict.

  24. #24
    we're gonna make it out of the fire The_Ink_Goddess's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stiger05 View Post
    Exactly. Besides, how many people do you know change without any sort of conflict? Most people don't just wake up and say "I think I'm going to stop being a selfish coward today and stand up for my friends." There has to be some catalyst to cause this change, be it an external "holy crap my friends are about to die" or an internal "I feel this strange growing guilty feeling that my friends always stand up for me but I don't reciprocate." Something initiates the change and that something is conflict.
    I was thinking more about the specifics of the "internal" part of the conflict. For instance: Katniss in The Hunger Games. She changes - she goes up a notch in badassery to survive the Games, for instance, but she doesn't agonise over this change. It happens to her because it's necessary for her. Is that still "internal conflict" like, for instance, Melinda's development in SPEAK?
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  25. #25
    You can't sit with us! missesdash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The_Ink_Goddess View Post
    I was thinking more about the specifics of the "internal" part of the conflict. For instance: Katniss in The Hunger Games. She changes - she goes up a notch in badassery to survive the Games, for instance, but she doesn't agonise over this change. It happens to her because it's necessary for her. Is that still "internal conflict" like, for instance, Melinda's development in SPEAK?
    I'd say that's because she isn't given a choice. Her external conflict is so strong, it entirely propels her "change." With someone like Melinda, there wasn't nearly as much external conflict.

    I think it's just like real life. Some situations force us to change, others only encourage it or act as a catalyst. Most are a combination of the two.



    ETA: whoops, I mean "what Stiger said"

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