Creating and Maintaining Conflict

Conflict is what drives your characters down the plot. It’s what boosts your story into being a world within itself. The nice thing about creating conflict is that it can virtually be anything. The trick to make it exciting and riveting is rather simple, too. To create a substantial conflict, you must first determine what your protagonist wants. Once you have that, you need to ask yourself: What prevents my character from getting what they want? It’s that simple.

Let’s say that Character X really wants to go to a concert. That is his goal. But, the concert is halfway across the US, and he doesn’t have the means to get there. These would be pretty big obstacles for him to over come. This is the conflict of the story. This is what the entire plot is based on. This leads us through the rising action and takes us right up to the climax.

However, be sure that your conflicts are actually conflicts and not just tension. For example, Rita just bought new shoes, fell down, and scuffed them–this isn’t conflict. It would be conflict if Rita just bought new shoes for her friend’s birthday, fell down, and the shoes landed in a puddle and she didn’t have the funds to buy more and must figure out another perfect gift. Conflict has to incite action from your characters. It must drive them forwards into the plot. If it doesn’t, it’s not conflict.

There are also different kinds of conflict. There are four standar types of conflict:

Protagonist vs. Antagonist

This is your mano a mano type of conflict between two characters. Your character has a want, a goal (like going to a concert), and another character stands in the way of your character’s goal (like parents who forbid your character from going to the concert.) In this type of conflict, you get to not only create a memorable protagonist, but you also get to develop a memorable antagonist as well.

Protagonist vs. Nature

This is the story about a character vs. a natural disaster, living off of the land, or even against animals. Take The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell for example. Karana’s main struggle living on the island alone is that she must defend herself from a pack of wild dogs–the same pack that killed her brother, leaving her the only human on the island. She must also survive by taking on the traditionally male roles of hunting and providing for the herself as well as the female roles of making clothing and cooking.

Protagonist vs. Society

This is the story of a protagonist vs. a larger, collective body of people. Some examples of this type of conflict can be found in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and also in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This is the story in which the protagonist rebells against society and must deal with the consequences if they wish to keep their stance. This type of conflict is helpful if you want to write a story about societal issues that are either well known or not.

Protagonist vs. Self

This type of story takes place all inside your protagonist’s head. This type of conflict can be seen in many stream-of-consciousness writing such as William Faulkner’s Barn Burning or Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. There are plenty of outside forces at work, but the story itself if focused on how the character reacts to these forces.

As you write your story, don’t be alarmed if you find bits and pieces from all of these in your writing. Diversifying your types of conflict can and will enrich your writing and help the reader stay interested in following your characters through their problems. Just be sure that you don’t go overboard to the point that the reader is lost when it comes to what type of conflict the story is about.

Thanks for reading!



Categories: Fiction/Non-Fiction Writing, For Your Journey | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Creating and Maintaining Conflict

  1. Thanks for the tips!

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