Memoirs are compelling when they capture the writer’s journey as they overcome adversity, resolve conflict, or learn life lessons. Memoir writing relates in some way how the writer has resolved a conflict or overcome an obstacle on their path to where they are now. Adversity is easily defined as difficulty, misfortune, or a hindrance. It’s never a good thing. Triumph over adversity is clearly seen.
What is Conflict When Memoir Writing?
Conflict has many definitions, most of which are adversarial, such as “oppositional forces” or “antagonistic confrontation.” But conflict is also defined as a struggle within oneself or with others. While adversity is usually thought of as an external driving force, conflict can also come from within.
Conflicts from outside the person come from a wide range of sources. An external conflict is about the writer against an outside force, whether it is another person, a force of nature, or society. If you are writing a memoir about your fight with a business or a legal issue, the external conflict is impersonal. Memoir writing about your relationship with a family that doesn’t agree with you or is actively trying to hurt you is a more personal form of external conflict. Natural disasters, weather, and illnesses can all be external conflicts in memoir writing.
The simplest definition of internal conflict is the character vs. himself or herself. Someone struggling against his own desires. Someone battling her inner demons. Internal conflict is a person’s battle with their own ego. There are many examples of internal conflict. These include questions about your beliefs, overcoming self-doubt, and reassessing your idea of self. Internal conflict can revolve around love, faith, morality, or identity.
What Should the Central Conflict Be in Memoir Writing?
Memoirs usually have more than one conflict. However, not all of them should hold the same weight within your narrative. A memoir focusing on an internal conflict over feelings of shame may also feature tales of external conflicts that triggered those feelings. When writing memoirs, individuals usually discover that both personal and outward conflicts are tied together, with external conflicts triggering internal ones.
There should be an overarching theme or focus to a great memoir. When writing yours, determine which struggle you want to focus on. If you recall your battle against cancer, the external struggle against your body and the physical ravages of the illness may be the focus. Or perhaps you’d rather focus on the emotional and psychic toll of cancer. While both conflicts are valid, one should be the predominant focus of your memoirs.
The final question in determining whether something is an internal or external conflict should be, “Am I trying to overcome others or a situation, or am I struggling with myself?”
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