What is Conflict in a Story?
The motherless character named Mia wants to study further and become a scientist. But her drunkard father threatens her to either sell her off to an Arab Sheikh or marry her off to an elderly man with a son of her own age. Now Mia has to figure out how she wants to escape this mess.
That right there is the conflict. Conflict in Literature is a literary device that features the struggle between the main character and an opposing force. Conflict is what heightens the tension in the story, develops the character’s motivations towards their goals, and drives the plot forward.
Conflict in a Story is of Two Types: Internal and External
Internal Conflict: It is the conflict within the character. Their opposing beliefs and desires and their struggle with those beliefs. Internal conflict is defined as the conflict that is inside the character. The character has to act on his instincts, longing, agony, or any triggering emotion to move ahead. Such conflict develops the character from within and affects their actions.
External Conflict: It is the conflict that is beyond the character’s control. External conflict, as the name suggests, stands in the way of their motivations, goals, and desires externally. It could be a villain stopping them from reaching their goal, it could be the characters’ family keeping them from being with their beloved, etc.
Both the conflicts in a story makes a perfect martini of a great story. Why we must add both of them is because the real-life attacks you both internally and externally. Deeper the layer of the internal and the external conflict, the more engaging and satisfying the story shall be.
But why is conflict necessary? As much as it is simple to know and understand, it is difficult to put it into action. Before we understand conflict with more literary examples, let us understand the purpose of conflict in a story.
Purpose of Conflict in a Story
Stories are based on the belief systems that we choose to ignore, or accept, or struggle to accept. Just like those belief systems challenge us to become the better or worse version of ourselves, stories explore those phases of life.
Either with supernatural elements or real-life elements, stories bring forth our morals, our innermost desires that we may hide from the outside world, our innate personality that is still unexplored, etc.
And conflicts help the stories to move in the direction to move us, shake us, develop us. By us, I mean both the reader as well as the character inside the story.
So, the purpose of a conflict in a story is to challenge the character’s deepest and the most intimate desire or want, their fate, and their weakness to turn into the strength, or their strength to turn into their innermost weakness.
The character’s beliefs need to be thwarted and thrashed for them to develop into the person who will challenge the challenges back. A conflict does exactly that. How the character battles with the obstacles thrown in their way create a relatable context on various parameters like emotional, philosophical, and psychological.
How to Create Conflict in a Story?
Set the forces of antagonism against what your character desires the most. Antagonism does not only mean the villain who is barring your protagonist from reaching his beloved or finishing his million-dollar worth project. It is everything that opposes, challenges, and thwarts your character’s intentions, motivations, and goals.
Basic Principles of Antagonism:
- A stronger force of antagonism will develop the character in a better manner.the more challenged the character feels, the more skilled will he turn out to be to fight off the antagonist.
- Antagonism needs to increase with, exaggeratingly, each passing chapter. That being said, if the character’s opponent falls short before him right in the beginning, what is the point of putting the villainy in the story!
- Tailored to the protagonist’s desires. For example, if your character wants a car, and antagonism is set against his relation with his wife, what’s the logic behind the existence of the antagonist?
Now, we shall know about the types of conflicts in a story. There are more than just internal or external. Whom the character is fighting with, who has stood against the protagonist, against what the main character has to stand tall and win? Let us find out!
Common Types of Conflict in a Story along with Conflict Examples:
Here, we shall begin to break down the common types of conflict into 7 different examples.
|1.||Character vs. Character|
|2.||Character vs. Society|
|3.||Character vs. Fate/God|
|4.||Character vs. Supernatural|
|5.||Character vs. Technology|
|6.||Character vs. Nature|
|7.||Character vs. Self (Internal)|
1. Character vs. Character Conflict in a Story: Your story has both a protagonist and an antagonist, the conflict becomes the character vs. character. The protagonist wants something, and the antagonist works against him. The antagonist bars the protagonist from reaching his goals or acting on his motivations. This is Character vs. Character conflict in a story. For example, in the Harry Potter Series, Harry Potter (the protagonist) is being challenged by Lord Voldemort.
2. Character vs. Society Conflict in a Story: When the character is struggling to fit into the deranged norms of the oppressing society, then the conflict becomes the Character vs. Society. Sometimes, society is not just a large group of people, instead, an oppressing Government. For example, Winston Smith vs. Big Brother in the dystopian novel 1984, or Catniss Everdeen vs. The Capital in The Hunger Games.
3. Character vs. Supernatural Conflict in a Story:
All the stories containing aliens, zombies, vampires, ghosts, jinns, superheroes, centaurs, werewolves, etc. contain the conflict between the main character and the supernatural. Sometimes the character is challenged by the laws defying the natural laws and nature itself may not be a human being. But they depict the values, motivations, and goals that are intimate to the readers.
For instance, the entire Harry Potter Series is the perfect example of the character vs. supernatural. The conflict was between a good wizard and an evil wizard. The obstacles came in Harry Potter’s way in the form of Dragons, Basilisks, Dementors, Giants, Goblins, Death Eaters, etc.
4. Character vs. Fate/God:
Sometimes the conflict in a story is between the character and God, or God’s prophecies, or Gods’ fates. In such conflicts, the freedom is beyond the character’s reach. The playing field is uniquely unequal. Such kind of conflict in a story is somewhat similar to the conflict between the character and the supernatural. In this case, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is the classic example of the Character vs. Fate conflict in the story.
5. Character vs. Technology:
Pitting the character against artificial intelligence created by man sums up the conflict of character vs. technology in a story. The consequences of the technology impact the life of the character. Such conflicts can easily be found in science fiction writing. The perfect example of a conflict between character and the technology is Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.
6. Character vs. Nature:
Natural calamities, weather, apocalypse, post-apocalyptic landscapes, etc. prove to be the biggest obstacle in the character’s life. One of the most prominent examples of such a conflict is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The protagonist Pi Patel survives the storm, being stranded on a carnivorous island, the company of the Bengal tiger.
7. Character vs. Self:
Such conflict in a story entails the conflict within the main character. For instance, character XYZ accidentally kills someone, what choice would he now make:
- Would he report himself to the authorities?
- Would he hide the body and pretend it never happened?
- Would he leave the body there and live with guilt?
- Would he help the dead’s family to assuage his guilt?
All these concerns or conflicts are within the character himself. And his emotions are the only obstacle in such a conflict in a story.
All great stories are characterized as great by the amount of conflict in them. Those stories are moving and engaging because of the unexpected twists and turns, the right development of the character, and the character’s ability to deal with the conflict. The stronger the conflict in a story is, the more insight a reader gets into the character’s motivations, life, and emotions. Unforeseen struggles, spiked-up tensions, and strong antagonism make up the recipe of a good piece of fiction.