f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Stakes and Conflict - External vs. Internal

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Day 2 of Stakes and Conflict - External vs. Internal

I don’t have enough time today to make a full attempt at discussing stakes in a novel and their importance. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow for that topic.

Instead, I want to point out something that’s going to become important as we look at character-driven novels versus plot-driven novels. This is the notion of internal action and external action. Character-driven books are dominated for the most part by “internal” processes—thoughts, feelings, etc. In plot-driven books the what’s happening outside is most important. Usually a book has both an internal and external plotline and sometimes more than one of each.

In Dogs of Babel for instance, you have a plotline of a man dealing with his grief (internal) and also trying to teach his dog to talk (external). They are wrapped up in each other, but also distinct and readers want resolution to both. Often the climax of the “external” plot offers the resolution to the “internal” plot.

In Christian books the romantic plot is often internal, the spiritual plot is internal, and then there is also an external plot (murder investigation, war with a cattle baron, etc) that also needs to be resolved. Remember that when people complain about our books seeming a little thin. We almost always have at least one extra major internal plotline, so either the spiritual element or the romance seems cheap or thin. It’s something to keep in mind. (And why books that are written where the spiritual plotline IS the only internal plotline are so important.)

A final thought: these plots don’t have to instigated by the same incident. But as always, the inciting incidents NEED to be strong enough. A quick example is my own novel Ezekiel’s Shadow. The internal spiritual plotline is incited by an author’s case of writer’s block. The external plotline is incited by someone stalking the author.
Continue to Day 3 of Stakes and Conflict