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Conflict in Fiction, Making it Real from Live Write Breathe

Types of Conflict in Literature

Types of Conflict in Literature (Conflict in Fiction, Making it Real Series, Part 1)

The greatest rules of dramatic writing are conflict, conflict and conflict. James Frey

Conceived in passion, labored over with tender care, wrapped in our creativity,  fictional characters have a way of endearing themselves to their creators. We identify with their idiosyncrasies, want to be like them, even fall in love with them.  They are the very fabric of daydream, fulfillment of fantasy, our ideal selves.

We hate to make them suffer.

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For the story’s sake, that is what we must do, over and over again. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is letting characters off easy.

Farmers know that a baby chick needs to break its eggshell without outside help. Otherwise, it will be weak and sickly. The chick needs the struggle so it can develop the strength to overcome the obstacle that stands in its way. In the same way, suffering refines your characters, taps their resourcefulness, and strengthens them.

Without conflict, there can be no resolution, no climactic scene, no character arc, and no reward for readers.

Without conflict, there is no story.

Types of Conflict in Literature

Types of Conflict from Live Write Breathe

The main conflict you use determines the story you will tell. It should support the story mood and plot.

Writing teachers can’t agree on how many types of conflict exist in fiction. The numbers three, four, five, six, and seven are all cited. In my opinion, those listed as separate categories derived from the basic three I learned as a child. However, they offer interesting story ideas, so I’ve included them in this list, indented beneath what I believe was the original category. Overlap with other categories does occur. For example, man vs. supernatural could align more closely to man vs. man when the supernatural force has an identity.

Man vs. Self

A character’s opposing values, prejudices, doubts, and weaknesses create inner obstacles that the character may or may not overcome.

Examples

Bridget Jone’s Diary

This book puts a hilarious spin on a young British woman’s attempts to overcome her neurotic nature and improve her life.

Hamlet

Whether or not to avenge his father’s death by killing the murderer causes much of Hamlet’s angst in this Shakespearean masterpiece.

Man vs. Supernatural

An unseen and unknown force that lies beyond the laws of nature as science understands them comes against the protagonist.

Examples

Harry Potter

Harry struggles to understand and master the supernatural powers he was born with. He also confronts the unknown Voldemort.

Dracula

A young London solicitor falls into the clutches of a centuries-old vampire and must find a way to break free to save both himself and his fiance.

Man vs. Fate | God

The main character faces an uncontrollable problem arising from a coincidence so unusual it can only be attributed to fate or an act of God. The idea of fate as a trap originated with Greek and Roman ideas of gods controlling individual destiny. It occurs infrequently in literature in modern times.

Examples

Slaughterhouse Five

A former prisoner of war is abducted by aliens and confined again to a zoo. When he returns to Earth, he tries to tell others what happened and is thought mad.

Romeo and Juliet

Star-crossed lovers are born into families on opposite sides of a feud and strive to work out how to be in love when fate seems against them.

Man vs. Nature

An animal or force of nature (such as a storm, the sea, or a blizzard) threaten the main character. True-experience adventure stories often rely on this category.

Examples

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Author Bill Bryson gives a humorous account of an epic walk he and a friend took on as neophyte hikers.

Robinson Crusoe

An English man must learn to survive after being shipwrecked.

Man vs. Man

Another person or persons at cross-purposes confronts the protagonist through violence or more subtle attacks.

Examples

And Then There Were None

In this mystery novel by Agatha Christy, ten people are invited to a mansion on a deserted island by a mysterious host and murdered, one by one.

Les Miserables

A released prisoner breaks parole, and the officer who freed him hunts him. The prisoner evades capture and establishes himself as a mayor and factory owner, and even adopts a daughter. He’s not free to enjoy his rehabilitated life, however, due to the prison officer’s continued pursuit.

Man vs. Society

A man-made institution (like slavery, a cult, or Edwardian society) represses the protagonist. Obstacles created by this cause the main character to make moral choices and ultimately to reject or accept the institution. This type derives from man vs. man.

Examples

The Hunger Games

A young girl must learn to survive in a dystopian society where she and other children are pitted against one another in a game that is a fight to the death.

Jane Eyre

A young, orphaned girl struggles to rise above life at a harsh school, as a governess to a tortured employer, and finally against societal constraints.

Man vs. Machine

The main character comes into opposition with one or more machines, often in a corrupt culture, and may or may not win.

Examples

A Star Curiously Singing

In a futuristic society, a man trapped and controlled by technology, struggles to understand his existence and find freedom.

Frankenstein

The original example of this theme, this novel pits a man against his own scientifically-created monster.

Some Final Thoughts

We are all made up of three parts: body, mind, and spirit. Deepen your story by challenging your main character on all three levels.

Conflict in Fiction, Making it Real 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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