October 31, 2017

Internal Conflict Through Change

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Good stories use conflict and tension to propel a character somewhere they don't want to go. Change equals conflict.

Two of my recent posts, Coming Home: What We Missed and Change and a Novel's Characters, dealt with external changes, but what about the process of internal change? At the end of a story, we need to see our character undergo a personal change based on the circumstances they experience.

To continue the Wizard of Oz example in one of the earlier posts, Dorothy returns home appreciative of the little farm she grew up on. She realizes home is better than "somewhere over the rainbow."

Internal Change

Internal change occurs deep within the character's point of view. The impact on the character can be physical, emotional, or spiritual and will show up in their choices, actions, dialogue, and thoughts.

Before you write about change, it helps to understand how people react to change.


The Stages of Change

Change is a constant. We are always undergoing change of some type. Most changes make tiny ripples. They don't matter. Other changes, the ones that make a story great, create towering waves.

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.
These changes rock the water, shift the floor of the pond, lake, or ocean. They unearth items lost in the depths. It's messy and unpredictable.

Many years ago, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote Death and Dying. In this landmark book, she explored the stages of grief related to terminal illness. It didn't take long for people to realize these same stages apply to change. The stages in order are:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Everyone who experiences a difficult change adjusts to it the same way people adjust to death. Some changes might take longer than others, but the outcome is usually the same-acceptance.


Adaptation to Change

Although most people experience large-scale change through these stages, the rate they pass through the change differs. Some people embrace it without question. Others push back and fight it, even refusing to participate in the change. In any wide-scale change, you will find the following groups:

  • Innovators: people who love trying new methods or things. They may be the one responsible for or begging for the change.
  • Early Adopters: people who embrace change soon after it's introduced. They may not take the time to understand the why and the how of the change. Often, these people prefer a dynamic, non-traditional environment.
  • Early Majority: people who follow the lead of Innovators and Early Adopters. They prefer to jump in before the change becomes murky.
  • Late Majority: people who wait to make sure everything works and the change will happen.
  • Late Adopters:  people who eventually join the others in accepting the change, but are less willing to accept it. They may continue to question the change's value but can be persuaded to accept it.
  • Diehards: people who resist change and refuse to accept it. They often choose to turn away from the change situation and pursue other options. In the business world, they will leave or get fired or moved to a different position. Anger drives them.
Once 20% of a population accepts a change, it will happen. Typically, the Innovators and Early Adopters tend to make up 20% of a population.

Awareness of these stages and adoption attitudes will help you create a tension-charged atmosphere in your story. What will you do with your protagonist? Many successful stories use innovators to drive the story forward. Will that person be your protagonist or someone else? Other stories succeed by placing the protagonist in a later stage of adoption. Whether your protagonist accepts the change, rejects it, or drives it, he will encounter people at different stages of change. Those interactions lead to great conflict, external and internal.

What's your protagonist's approach?


Sources:
Stages of Grief and Change Graph
Adoption Innovation Curve Information


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