Writing mechanics and the internal spark plug

To me writing is like building a car. You start with a lot of parts and you put them together. Simple, right? Not even . . .

I’m jealous of fellow writers who can get their characters’ internal conflict just right from the start, write a compelling story, and never look back. I’ve written ten novels now, four of them published, and, although I do external conflict okay; that darned internal conflict always seems to elude me. It’s like a spark plug. Without internal conflict your car — aka your story — won’t start.

I’m three-quarters through with my book. It’s rolling along. It’s a suspense so it doesn’t have to have an overt amount of romance, although because I’m writing it, it certainly has some. I think romance happens in most every novel, on page or off page.

For any book (romance or not) to work, the protagonist needs to be larger than life. We have to understand all of his foibles, where he’s going, and what he’s been through.
Trust me, I did the character profiles, but my protagonist was just going through the superficial motions. And my critique partners did what critique partners are supposed to do—they nailed me on it.

I fretted. I hollered. I went back to my profiles, played what if scenarios, and switched things around. Still the hero’s heart wasn’t beating on the page. In this book, my protagonist is a supervisory special agent or SSA. And what I didn’t know is what had happened to him to make him who he was, to demand a demotion, to transfer from a position that had him well on his way to the top ranks in the Bureau? I knew it happened—but WHY?

So I called up a friend who’s not only a retired FBI agent, he’s a profiler, and he walked me through what might have happened to this man. He told me actual stories. I paced, I took notes, and thought ok, I might be able to do this, and my engine started to rev.

Still, my character remained in the shop. Until I took the stories the retired agent had suggested and molded them and made his internal conflict personal, and even added a little romance. And guess what? I started to care—a lot.

I rewrote my opening and submitted it to my CPs, and a couple of beta readers. One wrote back and said I don’t cry easily but you got me. Another said you had me tearing up. What’s more I choked up something fierce.

At last, I’m ready to roll this baby down into the assembly line–I understood his internal conflict.
I still have jealousy issues. I can come up with the plot and the external conflict, but internal conflict continues to stymie me. Without it, you don’t have a key element that completes your story.

If you’re a writer, do you agree with my writing mechanic analogy? Does the internal conflict come easy to you? Are there other elements of story that escape you? I’d really like to be able to know my characters the moment I create them so I wouldn’t go through this angst in every book. If you’re a reader can you tell when an author has a missing part?