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Person Vs. Self

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Look inside yourself. What don’t you like? Don’t berate yourself, but find something. Think about how you work to overcome this, work around it, or how it hinders you. This is your person vs. self.

At the heart of every character and their development is a question of person vs. self.

What has stopped you from changing yourself? What created this trait you don’t like?

When we begin to look into these kinds of conflicts, we are looking at the building of a character from the ground up. How the conflict of a character with themselves will shape up is sometimes predicated on the source of the trait in question. No particular character trait must have a single origin, and the origins do not need to be dramatic.

For example, why are we sometimes shy? We may have had a terrible traumatic bully who impacted us in our youth, now long-gone from our lives, who left us with unresolved issues. Perhaps we were constantly shushed by parents, or grandparents and becoming quiet was just a way of life at home. Maybe, we just don’t like to speak and there is no reason. Maybe we are introverted and it takes energy for us to interact with crowds of more than one or two people. The reasons are varied, but how they play out on a page may be impacted by these origins. Perhaps if we were bullied, we need to have an experience of standing up to a current day perceived bully, and the tale is about how to get up the strength to do that.

If a character needs to change their stripes and learn that being comfortable is not always the most important thing, then maybe they need to sometimes sacrifice comfort for publicly speaking, to make the world a better place. The way that they will find that motivation might be very different than standing up to one specific person.

The range of traits you want to address for a character can be big or small. Minor personality traits like introversion, or perhaps arrogant extroversion, or fear of heights, fear of open spaces, fear of flying, fear of speaking out against parents, fear of speaking out against society (blending toward person vs. society,) and a multitude of others exist.

What is at stake can be widely varied as well. Maybe getting on a plane is the key to their new dream job or maybe they need to visit a relative in distant lands who is ill. Maybe the ability to stand up to a bully changes the course of a local election and thereby the course of an entire town. Maybe by finding their courage they meet a new significant other and find their happily ever after.

When we are considering the use of internal conflicts, they do not have to remain confined to a character’s head, and most often should not. The conflict that rages inside should drive action in the world, and these conflicting motivations should get in the way of the character’s goals and ambitions until they resolve them. The more central to the main story they are the more obvious they should be, but it is useful if every character has a flaw and conflict inside, including secondary and tertiary characters.

Batman vs. Bruce Wayne

We are all familiar with person versus self in exaggerated examples. What else is Batman but person versus self? Two aspects of one man at war. What else is the entire conflict of the light and the dark side of the force in Star Wars, but each jedi coming to grips with their conflicting sides? Fantasy and science fiction are replete with examples, once we know to look for them.

Consider carefully the questions:

What is the conflict in the character?

What do they want that they can’t have about themselves?

What is the source of the conflict?

What prevents them from “just,” being different?

How does the internal conflict show on the page to others?

How does the character resolve the internal conflict?

What actions will they need to take to realize their change?

How do these internal conflicts relate to the larger plot, or are they the plot around which the troy revolves?

If you have enjoyed this series, remember to subscribe, and to look out for the next series where we will be discussing settings. Always remember, writers write.

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