3 Types of Conflict and Why You Need to Use Them

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Conflict is necessary for all stories. It doesn’t matter what kind of story it is — novel, short story, mystery, romance, thriller, children’s, adult — it will always need conflict. In order to keep the plot interesting and exciting, some type of conflict must be there. It gives your characters obstacles they have to overcome before they can reach their goals.

But how do you create conflict for your characters?

3 Types of Conflict

Conflict can come in innumerable shapes and sizes, but they can ultimately be broken down into one of three categories. Are you using these three types of conflict in your stories?

1. Conflict between your characters

Characters can argue, disagree, disobey the others’ wishes, keep secrets from each other, betray each other, and do many other things that would cause two or more people to butt heads. The most common kind of conflict between characters is when the protagonist and their enemy end up in the same room together.

That’s not to say friends and family can’t fight, though. In fact, conflict between allies can make a difficult situation a thousand times more interesting.

2. Conflict between your characters and the outside world

When events outside of your characters’ control occur — unexpected illness, a sudden loss of money, a death in the family, an injury, global events, etc. — characters are forced to react. Whether they deal with their situation in a poor or healthy way is up to you, the writer, but nevertheless, it reveals a truth about your characters and feeds the fire of your plot.

3. Conflict between your characters and themselves

This is quite possibly my favorite type of conflict, mostly because it can be the most frustrating for your characters. When there are problems your characters have no power over, they can place their anger on an outside person or object. But when the problems your characters face come from themselves, they can only turn their anger inward.

This can be difficult to write, but if it is portrayed well, it is extremely rewarding.

Internal conflict can result from your characters losing faith in their religion, deciding whether or not to break or bend the rules for “the greater good,” wrestling with addiction, doing what’s right versus doing what’s easy, feeling out of control, and more.

Experiment With All Three Types

Stories can have any one of these possible types of conflict, or they can have all of them. What matters most is that there is plenty of it and that it is carried out in the most interesting way possible.

Avoid clichés, play with characters’ relationships with each other, put your characters in the most difficult situations possible, and think about how they will handle these obstacles in a way that is true to their personalities.

What's your favorite type of conflict? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write a scene that starts with your character in the heart of some kind of conflict. Start with a conflict from one of these three categories, but feel free to include two or all three, if you wish. See where the story takes you.

When you’re finished, share your writing in the comments, if you’d like. Be sure to give your fellow writers some love, too!

The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).

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13 Comments

  1. M.FlynnFollen

    This is a tweaked story that I have been working on. Thanks for looking/reading.

    As soon as the Mrs. Shwartz shut the door behind to take a bathroom break, Her classmate Sarah pulled the half written letter from under her pencil leaving a dark horizontal line across the paper with a little tear on the edge.
    “WHYYY?” Nico screamed and lunged to reclaim her letter.
    The whole class room jolted up, turned and watched.
    Sarah quickly spun her back to her laughing while reading the letter out loud.
    “Dear Sun, wwoooo who’s Sun??” she winced at her and held the half crumpled letter high above her reach.
    “Please, Give it back!” her eyes began to water.
    “No, not yet you werido. I want to see what you’ve been up.” she giggled as she held the higher with each jump Nico took to steal it back.
    Nico slowed, tired and Sarah won. She stood up on a chair to keep Nico from grabbing hold her began to read her letter out loud to the class ” OK, FINALLY! Here we go: Dear Sun” She stopped, cleared her throat, gave a smirk to Nico and rose her eyebrows then continued. “I was sitting on a hill with my mom over looking the park yesterday as you sunk behind the the trees for the day, making the day… well, the day. I saw your light turn gold across the grass and watched the shadows of trees stretch long the lower you sank. Then…” She stopped reading gave Nico a look of pity “Are you actually writing to like the sun? Like the actual sun sun? HAHAH. You have to write to the sun because you have no friends!” She lost it and so did some of the class. Sarah laughed so hard she stepped off the chair and fell to the floor laughing. Nico didn’t even try to get the letter back, she sat back at her desk and slid low with her feet sticking out way in front of the desk listening to Sarah laugh. She wished she could sink lower, maybe somewhere behind the tall trees and follow the sun home.

    Reply
    • Evelyn Sinclair

      I like this. Children can be so cruel to each other, and you have captured the situation so well.

      Reply
      • M.FlynnFollen

        Thanks for reading and giving a reply!

        Reply
    • Priscilla King

      I like it too. Things like this happen…I wonder whether it motivates Nico to learn another language, or construct one, or learn to write in code?

      (I can still read and write the grid-cipher in which my brother and I used to code things we wrote at school…)

      Reply
      • M.FlynnFollen

        I like that idea, that could be fun to add code to future letters. Thanks for reading!

        Reply
  2. Evelyn Sinclair

    She had endured an eighty mile trip to the hospital, with a tropical storm battering the windscreen and turning it into frosted glass. Her contractions were happening very close together, but rather than distract her husband from driving, she choose to be silent. They eventually arrived safely at the hospital and admission was processed promptly. All seemed well as the baby was safely delivered and pronounced to be in good health. Unfortunately the mosquito net covering the bed was holed in various parts and the inevitable result for our new mother was a serious dose of malaria. As if that was not enough for her to contend with, she was terror stricken when she began to hear the approach of an aircraft seemingly in the direction of the hospital. As the sound grew nearer, she followed the instructions that had been given in the event of an air raid. “Take the pillow from your bed and place it on the floor. Grab the baby and put her on the pillow. Slide the pillow under your bed and lie below the bed covering the baby with your body.” The procedure brought terror and agony to her heart. Was she to lose this baby after only four days, having waited four years to conceive?Crying out to God for mercy, tears flowing down onto the baby, feeling totally hopeless and helpless, how was she ever going to survive this ordeal? But survive it she did. Others in the hospital were less fortunate. In the panic of the raid, surgeons abandoned the operating theatres and their patients, while others ran outside thinking they would be safe if the building was hit. Fortunately – or unfortunately – depending on how you view it, the damage to the building was minimal, but the strafing from the departing plane killed many of those who had chosen the outside as the safer area.

    Reply
    • Yumna Mahmood

      nicely written.
      i will share my story soon

      Reply
      • Evelyn Sinclair

        Thank you for encouraging me.

        Reply
      • Evelyn Sinclair

        Thanks for your response. The prompts alwaysseem to motivate me to write, and the articles pave the way.

        Reply
  3. TerriblyTerrific

    It definitely makes it more interesting…thank you for the article.

    Reply
  4. Sarina Langer

    Conflict is a necessity in any book, I love making life harder for my characters! Great breakdown 🙂

    Reply

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