7 Types of Conflict to Master in Writing

Man talking to his partner with eye contact. Two opponents facing each other. Conflict. The concept of rivalry. Emotional connection, relationships, exchange of ideas or telepathy. 3d vector.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Without conflict, stories would be dull. Happy people being nice to each other might make for a pleasant reality, but if you want a story that propels readers through the pages of your book, you need conflict. By understanding and mastering the various types of conflict, you can craft a story that will move your audience.

What is conflict in a story?

Conflict is the struggle or clash between opposing forces that drives the plot and shapes the development of characters, whether it is external conflict, interpersonal conflict, status conflict, etc. Story conflict introduces obstacles, challenges, and tensions that characters must confront and overcome to achieve their goals. It’s what lies at the core of storytelling, providing the driving force that keeps readers engaged and invested.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the conflict centers around the One Ring, with the forces of good trying to destroy it and the forces of evil trying to harness its power. This overarching conflict creates continual suspense, propels the story forward, and influences the decisions and actions of every character.

External conflicts

Conflict falls into two general families of conflict — external and internal — each with several sub-types. Here are five kinds of external conflict.

Man vs. man

This type of character vs. character conflict occurs when a character faces disagreement, opposition, or confrontation from another character. This relationship conflict can involve physical, verbal, or emotional clashes between individuals. This can include rivalries, competitions, or battles between protagonists and antagonists. In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets drives the tragic events of the play.

Man vs. society

In this conflict, the protagonist struggles against societal norms, rules, or expectations. It often involves fighting against injustice, oppression, or conformity. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games depicts Katniss Everdeen’s rebellion against the totalitarian regime of Panem, representing the man vs. society conflict.

Man vs. nature

Nature can be a formidable force that presents challenges and obstacles for characters. This type of conflict involves characters struggling against the elements, natural disasters, or the harsh environment. In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of the white whale exemplifies the man vs. nature conflict.

Man vs. supernatural

Supernatural conflict occurs when characters face otherworldly or supernatural forces. This can involve battles against ghosts, mythical creatures, or supernatural powers. George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise exemplifies the man vs. supernatural conflict through the Jedi’s struggle against the Sith and the dark side of the Force.

Man vs. technology

This conflict focuses on the relationship between characters and technology, often highlighting the ethical implications and consequences of advancements. It can involve characters battling against machines, artificial intelligence, or the dehumanizing effects of technology. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World portrays a man vs. technology conflict as characters rebel against a dystopian society controlled by technology.

Internal conflicts

Readers don’t just want to see your characters triumph over external forces; they also want to see how your main characters’ struggles have changed them. Enter internal conflicts. These conflicts take place inside the mind or heart of your protagonist and other main characters, and they are what drive their character arcs.

Man vs. self

This self conflict involves the protagonist’s internal struggle with their beliefs, desires, fears, or moral dilemmas and provides insight into the character’s personal growth. In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Jean Valjean grapples with his past actions and strives to find redemption.

Man vs. fate/destiny

Characters may face conflict when their desires or actions clash with an inevitable fate or destiny. This type of conflict explores themes of free will, determinism, and the struggle to defy predestined outcomes. In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, characters navigate the conflict between their actions and the predicted future of the galactic empire.

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Combining conflict types

To create layered and dynamic narratives, writers can harness the power of multiple conflict types. By incorporating various conflicts, you can deepen character development, add complexity to the plot, and engage readers on multiple levels. Consider intertwining external and internal conflicts or exploring conflicts that emerge from different sources simultaneously.

For example, in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the protagonist Katniss Everdeen experiences the external conflicts of man vs. society and man vs. man as she fights against the oppressive Capitol and battles other tributes in the deadly Hunger Games arena. Simultaneously, she struggles with internal conflicts of man vs. self, torn between her survival instincts and her desire to protect others.

Tips for writing conflict

For creative writing, create characters with depth and complexity by giving them their own conflicts, desires, and motivations. When characters have conflicting goals or values, it sets the stage for compelling conflicts within the story.

  • Establish clear objectives. Clearly define what each character wants and the obstacles they face in achieving their goals. Well-defined objectives provide the framework for conflict and drive the plot forward.
  • Build tension and suspense. Use pacing, suspenseful situations, and unexpected twists to heighten tension in your story. Increase the stakes for your characters and keep readers on the edge of their seats.
  • Resolve conflict. Conflict resolution is crucial for satisfying conclusions. Avoid resolving conflicts too easily or predictably. Strive for resolutions that feel earned and maintain a sense of realism and emotional satisfaction for readers.

Resolve conflict with BookBaby

Conflict is a vital ingredient in storytelling, driving narratives and captivating readers. By understanding and incorporating different types of conflict in your stories, you can create engaging and layered narratives and keep your readers turning the pages until the very end.

When your conflicts are resolved, contact the pros at BookBaby. Our world-class editors will get your book ready for prime time, and our Complete Self-Publishing Packages offer a conflict-free way to bring your story to your readers.

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