Five Types of Conflict in fiction: And How to Write Them
Conflict is at the heart of any story and it can take many forms. In this article, we’ll highlight five common types of conflict that make up the basis of most fiction stories.
Before you embark on the creation of your fiction book, you’ll need to decide what type of conflict you’ll want your story to have and then create a plot with specific details about how it will play out.
How to Create Conflict in Your Story
The key rule for creating conflict in your story is to give your protagonist some sort of goal they have to achieve and then make it difficult for them to do so.
You have to make sure that there are clear stakes for both sides involved in the conflict and provide enough backstory so readers can understand why your characters behave the way they do.
The nature of the conflict could be self-inflicted by your protagonist’s own limitations, beliefs, psychology, and so on, or imposed by external circumstances that are completely outside of their control.
For internal conflict, your story will revolve around the emotional journey of your protagonists as they overcome their limitations and grow beyond them to overcome the conflict and arrive at a resolution.
For external conflict, your story will revolve around your protagonist’s ability to overcome outside forces and triumph over them.
Although there are many types of conflict you could create for your story, there are five types that are common in the world of fiction. The conflict in your story should be introduced early on and it should escalate as your book progresses.
5 Types of Conflict in Fiction
1. Man vs. Self
In this type of conflict, your protagonist’s emotional journey consists of overcoming their own internal struggles as they are antagonized by their own thoughts.
2. Man vs. Nature
In this type of conflict, some natural disaster or other force of nature threatens the protagonist’s existence and they must take the necessary actions to save themselves and others from their demise, usually while facing limiting thoughts that put their ability to succeed in doubt.
3. Man vs. Society
This is an external type of conflict where social norms and expectations prevent your protagonist from achieving their goals as they feel like they don’t belong or are being judged by others.
4. Man vs. Man
This is the typical clash between a protagonist trying to achieve their key goal in the story and their main antagonist, who has an equal and opposite goal and who’ll try to do everything in their power to stop them from fulfilling theirs.
5. Man vs the Supernatural
This is the conflict between your main character fighting against an evil force that’s trying to harm them and others close to them, a supernatural creature, monster or entity that stands as an otherworldly obstacle for your protagonist in achieving their mission.
Stories are all about conflict and how it’s resolved — the existence of a problem that creates tension between characters and forces them into difficult choices. Without conflict, your reader will lose interest in your story quickly.
When you’re plotting out your fiction, keep these five types of conflict in mind so you can create more realistic characters with believable challenges.
I hope this article has helped you to better understand the different types of conflict in fiction and how they can be applied to your writing. Experiment and see what works best for your story and which types of conflicts you enjoy writing about the most.
If you’re working on a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.