6 Types of Conflict (With Examples)

As anyone who hangs around this blog or who even knows the slightest thing about story writing will tell you, the key to writing a good story is to create a rich cast of characters with clear motives and goals which bring them into conflict with some kind of antagonist or problem.

Last week I shared a list of possible character goals as a (rather belated) follow-up to my earlier post on character motives. And so, in keeping with this theme, I have prepared a list of possible conflicts for your story. These are the problems your protagonist will have to overcome in order to accomplish their goals.

The six main categories of conflict are already pretty well established in writerly circles:

  1. Character VS. Character
  2. Character VS. Self.
  3. Character VS. Nature
  4. Character VS. Society
  5. Character VS. Supernatural
  6. Character VS. Technology

This way of categorising conflicts works pretty well and I saw no point in deviating from it; however, to help you along, I have also included three possible examples of each. This is by no means and exhaustive list and I have tried to keep it generalised, but I hope you find it useful.

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16 Character Goals

A little while ago I published a post about character motives which included a fairly lengthy list of the kind of things that might motivate your characters actions. Of course, anyone who has been hanging around this blog for any length of time will know that I am always banging on about how a character’s motives, goals and conflict together form the basis of any good story.

And so, better late than never, I decided it was probably time for me to knock together a little list of character goals.

Unlike motives, a goal is a very specific thing your character has to accomplish (or fail to accomplish) before the story can be truly considered complete. Sometimes characters may have more than one goal, but more often than not there is usually at least one key thing that the protagonist absolutely has to accomplish. For instance, if you were writing a murder/mystery, your protagonist could be motivated by a sense of righteousness or because someone is paying him a lot of money to solve a crime, but his goal would be to find out ‘who dunnit.’

This list is a lot shorter than my list of motives, mainly because I’ve tried to keep these very general even though goals are usually very specific to the story, but I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

A Protagonist’s Anatomy #1: Motive, Goals, Conflict & Epiphany

Well, it’s been a while since I did a series of posts so here begins my brand spanking new four post series entitled A Protagonist’s Anatomy. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be breaking down some of the most basic and essential elements that go into forming a full fledged character. This will be very much a whistle-stop tour of the various different elements that go into creating an imaginary person.

And so for the first post in the series it seemed only right that I begin with the four things that form the beating heart of any good character: motive, goals, conflict and epiphany.

I’ve written about these things on this blog a lot. Regular readers (♥) may feel like I’m repeating myself in this first instalment but I make no apology for that. Even if you have meticulously crafted every other element necessary to make a good character (we’ll come to those in the next couple of weeks), your character is as good as dead if they do not have a strong motive informing a clear goal hindered by a substantial conflict resolving in some kind of epiphany. This will not only produce a strong character but it will form the foundation of your story’s whole plot, so neglect it at your peril.

Motive

The most foundational element involved in making a character of substance is motive. This is, in the most simple terms possible, what gets your character up in the morning. Sure, the antagonist might be threatening to commit an act of unspeakable evil which will spell the end of life as we know it for all humanity, but why should the protagonist take it upon himself to do anything about it? Why not just leave it to the police? This is your motive; not what the character is trying to do but why they’re trying to do it. Ask yourself: what matters to this character more than anything else (e.g.: revenge, love, to escape their destiny, etc.). Then you will know their motive.

Goal

This, on the other hand, is precisely what your character is hoping to achieve before the end of the story (e.g.: to get to a certain place, to find a certain object, to marry a certain person). Try to be as precise as possible in your mind as to what your protagonist’s goal is because this also forms the foundation of the actual plot. The reader will intuitively understand that there is something that the protagonist must do, and that the story will not be finished until that goal has been decisively accomplished or thwarted. No goal, no story.

Conflict

This is where characters and the overall plot really start to overlap: something is keeping your character from accomplishing their goal. In the best stories, most characters will struggle against both an external conflict and an internal one.

The external ones are usually pretty obvious, such as an antagonist whose own goals stand in direct contradiction to the goals of the protagonist, thus bringing the two characters into conflict with each other. However this will usually make for pretty bland reading if the protagonist does not also struggle with an internal conflict: personal demons that they carry with them wherever they go which they must overcome in order to accomplish their external goals. For instance, in the original Star Wars trilogy there is the obvious external conflict between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, but there is also an underlying internal conflict where Luke must learn to use the Force to defeat Vader without succumbing to the ‘dark side’ as his father did. In most stories, the protagonist finally triumphs over the antagonist only once he has overcome his own inner-conflict.

Epiphany

There is an old cliché that says we should not be called human beings but human becomings, because we are all in a constant state of change (hopefully for the better). If you want your characters to read like real live people (and you do, dear reader) then you absolutely must reflect this in your writing. Your protagonist must evolve between the first and the final chapters, usually by learning an important lesson having finally put to bed the inner demons they have been wrestling with throughout the story.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to come back next week for part 2, where we’ll be looking at developing a protagonist’s back story.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Creating Conflict Between Your Characters

I’ve often said that good characters are at the heart of every good story. This is true, however there is another crucial element that is required for a compelling story and that is conflict. Of course, as we shall see, a well-written conflict is born of well-written characters. The two elements are not mutually exclusive. Let’s start by trying to define what we mean by conflict.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines conflict as ‘an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles’. This is certainly a good enough definition, however when it comes to the conflict found in any good story, I would take it one step further and suggest that conflict is an active disagreement between people with opposing goals. Alternatively, your central conflict may also revolve around one character’s goals being at odds with a particular circumstance. In any event, your protagonist wants something so badly it was worth writing a novel about it and yet someone or something is preventing him from getting it.

Creating a strong conflict is mandatory in any style or genre of story writing. Your reader will bore quickly without it. Even the most seemingly mild-mannered, light-hearted, inoffensive stories have conflict at their core. My two year old is currently quite obsessed with The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, in which a mouse living in the woods avoids being eaten by various predators by pretending he’s going to meet a particularly ferocious imaginary friend. It’s a children’s picture book, yet at its core we still have this conflict between the cunning but ultimately vulnerable mouse who wishes to avoid being eaten and all the other characters who do want to eat him. Thus we have characters with diametrically opposing goals, thus we have conflict, thus we have a story.

So if you’re writing a story and you feel like it’s lacking that bit of tension needed to keep it interesting, take my advice: go back to your characters. It can be tempting to try and fix a lack of tension by throwing in more fight scenes or adding a pointless romantic subplot, but if your characters’ goals are not at odds with each other or with a particular circumstance, adding extra subplots or intense scenes will only make your story appear bloated.

First, check your characters’ motives. What is that one thing that gets them out of bed in the morning and spurs them on to action? Remember, this will be the basis for whatever goal your character has and it is this that will lend importance to your characters goals and make your audience care about whether or not they achieve them (I’ve spoken a bit about this before here).

Now ask yourself: on the basis of my character’s motive, what are they actually trying to achieve? This is their goal. Success or absolute* failure will mean the end of the story because the conflict will have been resolved. All of your main players should have clearly established motives and goals. If you have a character whose goals are diametrically opposed to another’s, you pretty much have your conflict and a clearly established antagonist [2] into the bargain.

Of course, there are other, less obvious types of conflict than simply pitting two characters against each other. These will still be grounded in your protagonist’s motives and goals, but instead of coming into conflict with another character, they will be brought into conflict with themselves or other external forces, such as God, nature or a socio-political situation which is beyond their control. Even in these cases, the principle remains the same: your character needs to acquire or accomplish something but something external to his or herself is stopping them from doing it.

In addition, there are also internal conflicts, where a character is wrestling with his own contradicting goals and motives. I’ll maybe(!) write a separate post about internal conflict because it can be footery to get right, especially if you’re wanting to write a story where something actually happens (and yes, you do want this). Suffice it to say for now that the issue still concerns a conflict of goals and motives: the main difference being that the protagonist’s goals are in conflict with each other. For my money, however, an internal conflict should not be used as a substitute for an external conflict, but something to go alongside it.

Whatever kind of conflict is at the heart of your story, remember this: it starts with your characters. A character will not throw themselves into danger for no reason. They need to want or need something badly enough that they are willing to struggle against themselves, others and all the forces of nature to get it. Only when your audience understands and cares about their goals and motives will they care about whether or not your protagonist manages to overcome whatever antagonists you throw their way.

Footnote:

*There will usually be an apparent failure halfway through the story. This is not the end, but rather gives the protagonist the final push they need to try again and succeed. You knew that already though.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what types your writer.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here: