Conflict in a story is the clash of opposing forces. It is the challenge main characters must solve to achieve their goals. In this post, you’ll learn about conflict in literature, different types of conflict in story, and how to create conflict in a story.
What does Conflict mean?
Conflict meaning: The word ‘Conflict’ has Latin origin, which means striking, but it isn’t always violent. A conflict is an opposition. It arises from opposing ideas.
For example, if you and your friend both fall in love with the same person, you will have to find some way to resolve the conflict.
What is Conflict in a Story?
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.
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.
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.
Why is Conflict Important in Stories?
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 in a story 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.
Types of Conflict in Literature:
Broadly divided, conflict can be internal or external:
I. Internal Conflict in a Story:
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.
So, what does internal conflict mean? Put simply, it is a struggle within a person’s mind over their problem.
II. External Conflict in literature:
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.
Internal vs. External Conflicts (Types & Example):
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! Here, we shall begin to break down the common types of conflict into 7 different examples.
1. Character vs. Character Conflict in a Story:
When your story has both a protagonist and an antagonist, the conflict becomes the character vs character conflict or conflict person vs person.
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.
Example of a conflict in a story: 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.
Example of a conflict in literature: 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 of 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.
Story conflict examples: 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. God Conflict in Literature
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. Example of conflict in a story: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is the classic example of the Character vs. Fate conflict in the story.
5. Character vs. Technology Conflict in Literature:
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 in literature can easily be found in science fiction writing.
Conflict in a story examples:
The perfect example of a conflict between character and the technology is Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.
6. Character vs. Nature Conflict in Literature:
Natural calamities, weather, apocalypse, post-apocalyptic landscapes, etc. prove to be the biggest obstacle in the character’s life.
Example of a conflict in a story: One of the most prominent examples of conflict in literature 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 Conflict in Literature:
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 in a story are within the character himself. And his emotions are the only obstacle in such a conflict in a story.
How to Create Conflict in a Story?
7 Steps to Create Compelling Conflict in a Story
1. Identify the Right Conflict Type
Types of conflict are often dictated by genre. In thrillers, characters often clash with each other, while in speculative fiction, characters fight supernatural forces. To create interesting story conflict, a writer should first determine which conflict will fit best for their story.
For example, The Old Man and the Sea shows character vs nature conflict in Santiago, a fisherman, and the enormous marlin he hooks. Later, in the story, Santiago’s internal conflict creates a character vs. self conflict as well.
2. Create Obstacles for Your Protagonist
Conflict builds in fiction when your character cannot get what they want. As a writer, you can raise the stakes by making their desire an obsession. Providing what your characters want all the time will lack tension. Good stories are driven by conflict.
Don’t let your characters get off easy, because they need to resolve their conflicts to grow. Think of conflict as anything that stands between your characters and what they want, not just dramatic action.
3. Develop a Stronger Antagonist:
In fiction writing, the conflict should be dramatic. For this, you should create an anti-hero who is just as strong, if not stronger, than the protagonist.
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. Keep these in mind while writing:
i) 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.
ii) Antagonism needs to increase with 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 villain in the story?
iii) Antagonism should be 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?
4. Build Momentum throughout the Story:
During the middle of the story, you should make the hero’s quest as challenging as possible to make victory seem less likely. As you progress, you must raise the stakes and create obstacles that increase in intensity. Create new problems. Make things hard. Don’t forget to remind the reader what’s at stake.
5. Focus on Character Development
Character development is not just important, it’s what keeps the story going. A story is about what happens to a certain person, what his actions are, what his reactions are, and how those reactions will impact his/her own life. Make your characters flawed, but give them strengths too. Establish the character’s story, goals, and motivations, and align them with the conflict they’ll be facing.
Here’s a complete guide on Character Development. This 5-step process of character development will bring out a multi-dimensional character with a personality, nature, and complete life.
6. Visualise your Story
Think like a screenwriter when writing a novel or short story. What visual elements would best convey the conflict? Put those scenes in your story. Many bestsellers are made into movies, so conflict is often translated visually.
A film adaptation of The Hunger Games, for instance, used tension and suspense to create a heart-pounding cinematic experience as Katniss battled to survive.
7. Develop Subplots for Conflict
Make a complex storyline with several layers of conflict by adding a subplot. Add tension to your story by adding subplots that raise the stakes and introduce secondary characters.
For instance, In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien uses multiple subplots to escalates the tension and central conflict of Frodo’s quest to deliver the ring.
8. Write Climax Beforehand
Plan your climax scene in advance because tension frequently wanes in a novel during the writing process. Prepare a rough draft of climax. It may not be perfect, and you can always adjust it afterwards, but knowing where your characters are going in Climax is helpful in creating impactful conflicts. If you ever wave away from your ending, you can always come back to the core of your story to figure out the Climax.
For example, if you were to ask: Will Anna be successful in her lawsuit? In this case, the finale of your story will be the moment at which she finally wins.
- Conflict in a story is the clash of opposing forces. It is the challenge main characters must solve to achieve their goals.
- ‘Internal conflict’ refers to a character’s internal struggle. Whereas, ‘External conflict’ sets a character against something beyond their control
- Good stories have a great amount of conflict in them. They are engaging because of the unexpected twists and turns, the right character development, 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.
1. What is an example of an Internal Conflict?
Internal conflict is the inner struggle that affects the main character’s emotional and state. As an example, a character may be terrified of heights, may desire power, or may feel the need to live up to someone’s expectations.
2. What are 6 external conflicts?
The following are the 6 main types of external conflict.
Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Technology
Man vs. Animal
Man vs. God
3. How do you start a conflict in a Story?
It takes two things to create conflict: a want and an obstacle. The protagonist must want something, and the antagonist must be trying to stop her from getting it.
4. Does a story need a climax?
Good stories have a climax. In most cases, it occurs around 90% of the way through the narrative to make the greatest impact. After the climactic moment occurs, the story should be resolved quickly.
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