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The secrets to make a story unforgettable – part 3

Hello there, here we are with the third and last post about the elements that make a story stand out. First, we introduced the villain. Then, we brought someone who could defeat them into the picture.

The third element is not exactly a new one, it’s more a dynamic created by the opposition between villain and hero: I’m talking about the characters’ desires.

When talking about villains, we said that conflict is the fuel of a story, but we didn’t consider how this conflict is generated. Another thing to state in advance is that giving a rule of thumb for a good conflict is more complicated than it has been for the villain and for the hero. The fitness of conflict within a story depends much on the story itself, because it’s what makes the story exist in the first place.

Conflict can be either internal or external. The latter is the kind of conflict generated by the hero’s desires as opposed to the villain’s: they both want to obtain something and they fight to get it first. Or, more frequently, the objects of their desires are mutually exclusive. When thinking about conflict, it’s straightforward to consider the external one, because it’s the first one our brain suggests and the one that is easier to act upon.

Internal conflict, on the other hand, is usually considered from the hero’s point of view only. It’s generated as a result of the difference between the things a hero wants, the ones they need, and the ones they must do. It’s a more powerful kind of contrast that, when thought through, can really enhance a story.

Inner conflict is not limited to the story’s call to action, but also to its resolution. A classical hero’s journey unfolds like this: the hero wants something, but to obtain it they have to do what they must do and what they need to. The starting point of a story is when the hero responds to the call to action, which means they somehow acknowledge that, in order to get what they want, there are things they must do and things that they need to do. To be more accurate, let’s say that this connection between wants and needs doesn’t have to be explicit and static from the beginning. A hero might very well figure it out when they’re already on their quest, and this is something usually adopted to introduce reveals and plot twists.

In other words, the story is sparked by some external conflict (the hero wants something which opposes them to the villain). Then, to complete their journey and grow up as the story progresses, the hero faces internal conflict in the form of renounces or overcoming their fears. Or it can be the other way around: the hero is facing some troubles with themselves, and the villain comes to make things more complicated.

What matters, though, is that at least some conflict exists. If it doesn’t, then nothing worth telling happens: rather than a story, we’re telling an anecdote.

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