Conflicted characters are those who not only have a conflict with their enemies, but also with themselves. These characters are often resentful, angry, and driven by vengeance. The conflicted villains seek to reconcile their conscience with their ill deed, and conflicted heroes usually want to square their sense of the good with their duty. Essentially, a conflicted character is a character who is either good or bad but is drawn to the other side.
Consequently, it is easy to construe conflicted characters as characters who don’t have a clear moral standing. The conflicted character is clearly good or bad, just it’s also clear that they have a drawing to the light or darkness. When making conflicted characters, take the utmost care to not have them collapse into the easy pitfall of morally compromised heroes.
That being said, conflicted characters can be a lot of fun to write about. After all, all life is in conflict, sometimes ever with itself. We want to see that conflict resolved, because it mirrors the conflict we see within ourselves and the adverse conditions we face. If you want, the character can be autobiographical of your own life, in that the hero (or villain) faces the same problems that maybe you faced. Wonderful inspirations can be drawn from real life.
Fun or not, however, there are numerous difficulties when writing about characters with internal conflicts. Handled incorrectly, your hero can become morally compromised or have his or her conflict resolved in a poor way. Because these characters can be such great plot devices, do not allow them to sag, even at the expense of less important characters. Make the conflicted hero one of the stars of your show and stress on the internal conflict and resolution.
The first and most important thing to do when handling conflicted characters is to recognize the nature of the conflict. What caused the conflict? In some Christian stories, the death of a family member will be enough to make the hero question their beliefs about God. In revenge stories, the conflicted hero has been wrong and wants to make amends by killing his or her offender. Make the cause of the conflict clear as crystal.
Then, recognize both sides of the conflict. Usually this takes sides of good and bad. The conflicted character is torn between either doing this or that; to do the right thing and suffer for it, or do the wrong thing and benefit? Make the character clearly try to gravitate toward both sides, but either side holds him back. Sides of the conflict can be morality issues, two different people, two different cultures, two different football teams, or two opposing cities.
Once you have the nature of the conflict squared away, you have to put it into action: what will the conflicted character now do? We he or she succumb to the evil side of the conflict, or if it’s not a matter of morality, which side will they fall to? For what reasons are they drawn to either side? If you’re really ambitious, make your conflicted character flirt with both sides and feel guilty about it.
That’s important, too: You can’t just have a conflicted character who has no remorse. You need said character to have misgivings on both sides, as if they are guilty for both sides of their issues. In a way, they are: if they try to belong to both sides of the conflict, they can’t be a real part of either. Explore these themes as you add a sense of remorse to your conflicted character.
As a final note, be sure to resolve the character at the end. Unlike non-conflicted characters, you can’t just leave them in a state of confusion and uncertainty. By the end of the tale, the character must no longer be struggling with their allegiances. Whether this means the conflicted hero becomes a villain or the conflicted villain becomes a hero, be sure to, in the end, resolve the conflict.
See if you can identify a favorite conflicted character in pop culture (or in mythology or not-so-popular-culture). Identify: what makes this character so conflicted? What are the opposing sides of their conflict? What are the doing about it? How is the conflict eventually resolved?
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!