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Conflict in Fiction from Live Write Breathe

 External and Internal Conflict in Fiction

External and Internal Conflict in Fiction (Conflict in Fiction, Making it Real Series, Part 2)

Conflict in fiction is created when the main character strives to achieve a goal that solves the story problem, only to be frustrated by obstacles.  The force introducing these obstacles can be internal or external. A battle rages between a protagonist and antagonist, arising from opposing motives that put them at cross-purposes with one another. This battleground exists inside or outside the main character’s being.

In types of conflict in literature, part one in this series, we covered the basic categories of story conflict. Here’s a review:

  • Man vs. Self:
  • Man vs. Supernatural:
  • Man vs. Fate | God
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Society
  • Man vs. Machine

External Conflict

External Conflict in Fiction

All but one of the basic types of conflict is fought externally. The antagonist can be a person, supernatural entity, animal, monster, force of nature, societal institution, technology, or even fate, itself. The most used antagonist in fiction is another character.

Categories of external conflict in fiction

  • Man vs. Supernatural:  A person fighting a supernatural monster or an enchantment cast by a sorcerer fights a man vs. supernatural battle (Example: In Dracula, a man must find a way to break free of a vampire in order to save his own life and that of his fiance.)
  • Man vs. Fate | God: The main character’s goal is to cheat fate by overcoming a predetermined destiny. This is an external conflict because it is imposed by an outside force, even though fate and God are both invisible. (Example: Romeo and Juliet seek to escape the fate of hating one another that has been predetermined by the feud between their families.)
  • Man vs. Nature: A force of nature comes against the protagonist. This could be a storm, tornado blizzard, animal, the ocean. The conflict comes from outside the main character, therefore it is external.  (Example: In Robinson Crusoe, a man must learn to survive in nature after being shipwrecked.)
  • Man vs. Man: Two characters fight at cross-purposes, with the antagonist striving to prevent the protagonist from achieving the desired goal that solves the story problem. (Example: Les Miserables tells the story of one man’s relentless pursuit of another, with tragic consequences.)
  • Man vs. Society: Society is at odds with the main character in a conflict caused by conflicting values. (Example: In The Hunger Games a young girl fights to survive a popular game where she is expected to fight to the death against other children.)
  • Man vs. Machine: This type of story draws its conflict from the battle between a man and a machine. (Example: Frankenstein pits a man against his own scientifically-created monster.

While external conflict in fiction is important, a story built on it alone will lack the depth that internal conflict can bring.

Internal Conflict

Internal Conflict in Fiction

The antagonist in such a plot might be certain aspects of the protagonist’s character, values, hidden desires, or moral viewpoints. Doubts caused by a lack of confidence over the right way to solve the story problem create a dilemma for the main character that must be overcome before the plot can resolve.

Categories of external conflict in fiction

  • Man vs. Self: The only type of conflict that can be fought internally is that of man vs. self.  (Example: Hamlet is a classic example of man vs. self, with the titular character undecided whether to violate his principles to avenge his father’s murder.)
Inner conflict is the key to creating believable characters that resonate with readers.

Some Final Thoughts

Conflict types are not mutually exclusive, and they can even shift within a story.  Macbeth is an example of this.  As in real life, more than one conflict can complicate matters, with battles fought inside or outside a person.

External and Internal Conflict in Fiction via @JanalynVoigt | Live Write Breathe

Written by Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt

© Janalyn Voigt
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I’m Janalyn Voigt, an author, speaker, and former social media mentor. DawnSinger and Wayfarer, the first two books in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, released with Pelican Book Group and will be followed by at least two more installments. I’m also working on a romantic suspense novel set in an Irish castle, but then historical fiction has a grip on me too. Being unabashedly multi-genre makes me into what some might term a reluctant rebel, but I prefer to think of myself as a storyteller.

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