Fiction File: What a Disney Movie Taught Me About Conflict

I watched a movie that really brought home the essence of the different types of conflict for me. I can’t remember why I watched it.

The movie was The Cheetah Girls. I don’t remember very much about it, only my impressions.

A group of four girls who sing and dance are trying to make it in the music biz. They start out together, but they worry about who likes which dude they come across, whether their group will break up over these bumps, and so on. (I’m not sure, but I think that might be the second movie, when the girls go to Spain).

This was not what I was used to in movies.

There’s no epic quest to go on.

No monsters to slay.

No arrows, weather disturbances, or crazy happenings anywhere.

Just a group of girls, wrestling with inner problems.

That’s the essence of inner conflict.

Inner conflict happens, well, inside. Things like guilt, anger, doubt, and so on that fuels disagreements, fights, and so on between characters (these “fights” in the movie were heated arguments, but a fight is a fight).

And nobody even got their shoes scuffed in the show, I don’t think.

Inner conflict’s twin is outer conflict–being stranded on a desert island, having a car break down in a snowstorm, and so on–circumstances that happen outside your characters’ heads. This can be powerful, too. The Cheetah Girls did have to make some decisions about competitions and travel plans, which was outer conflict, as well. But the main focus was the girls’ inner workings.

There’s something to be said for different genres that depend more heavily on one type of conflict than the other. A lot of adventure fiction–being stuck in an avalanche, attacked by bears, and so on, depends more on outer conflict. We’re more focused on what’s happening around the character, and is he going to make it?

Other genres like science fiction, fantasy, thriller, and mystery, lean more toward the middle of the inner/outer conflict scale. Mystery and thriller are more toward outer.

Then there are other genres like romance and whatnot that are more focused on the inner conflict.

Both types of conflict reinforce each other. Have a character brood in the rain outside his girlfriend’s house because of a fight they had three hours before over something she took from his apartment.

Or have your space cadet approaching the black hole because his mom is terminally ill and he needs the money wonder if he’ll ever make it back alive.

Since inner conflict is mostly emotional, and outer conflict is physical, using both types will appeal to readers who like one or the other. Just ask your friends why they liked a movie, to see what I mean. Is their reason emotional (inner conflict) or physical (outer conflict)?

Until next time,



About Ty Mall

Thanks for stopping by. I've almost always been interested in writing, among other things. Along with discovering pop culture, I've uncovered a lot about the craft over the past 10 years. And whether you're a fiction writer or email copywriter, I'm here to pass on what I've found out. And have a ton of fun in the process.
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