7 Types of Conflict in Stories

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Sometimes stories get stuck while you’re writing them. It doesn’t matter if you sketched out your plot, drew character diagrams or felt more inspired by the idea than ever before.

The plot progression can slow to a halt, so what can you do to fix it? Although there could be many causes for your creative struggles (writer’s block included!), it could be a sign that you need to define your conflict.

Conflict drives your plot, especially if you know how to define it.

These are the seven most common types of conflict you can start considering as you analyze your existing story or think of a new one.

1. Character vs. Society

Facing off against some representation of society is a popular theme in fiction. It could be a middle schooler clashing with their teachers or a heroic underdog breaking the law for a noble reason and hiding from corrupt law enforcement.

Think Katniss vs. the Hunger Games. The games dictate everything from who stays in power to who rises or falls from economic classes. Society’s rules dictate everyone’s lives and even their deaths. It’s the primary point of conflict for the series.

2. Character vs. Character

People will always disagree with each other or actively work against each other to achieve their desired goals. This is Character vs. Character conflict. It’s all over literature, movies, television and other types of media because everyone can understand and relate to it.

You’ve seen this conflict play out in things like Romeo and Juliet. Romeo has to fight Paris after Mercutio dies. It’s Nick and Amy Dunne trying to stay one step ahead of each other in Gone Girl. It’s Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s rivalry in Hamilton.

3. Character vs. Technology

The Character vs. Technology conflict genre can be big or small. You could write about your protagonist traveling forward in time, which forces them to learn how to use the future’s technology while the plot pushes forward.

You could also make your character face conflict created by technology. Mary Shelley did that when she wrote Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein uses the technology at his disposal to create his monster, but his creation goes on to create problems that he didn’t foresee.

Today’s world is more reliant on tech than ever before, but that only makes people more aware of how technology can go wrong or complicate people’s lives. It’s another evergreen conflict that will remain important to readers (and publishers!) because we will never go back to life without computers, electricity, and technological inventions.

4. Character vs. Self

Battling yourself is another relatable theme in literature. It usually takes some kind of form similar to an angel and devil sitting on a protagonist’s metaphorical shoulders.

Characters in coming-of-age novels often face themselves and either grow from the conflict by learning from mistakes or succeeding through good choices.

There can also be an inner debate happening within your protagonist that keeps this conflict moving through your resolution. Mr. Darcy grapples with his inner self in Pride and Prejudice. He’s used to getting whatever he wants based on his status and wealth, so he has to dismantle that part of his nature when Elizabeth rejects his proposal. He insulted her in numerous ways during the proposal and has to learn to let go of that part of himself if he’s going to admit his real feelings and get married to the love of his life.

You can also see this conflict happening in A Court of Silver Flames. Much of the primary conflict in that novel is Nesta healing from the many types of trauma that turned her into an angry, defensive version of herself. She makes good and bad choices that shift her inner growth into different perspectives, ultimately showing her that she’s more than her mistakes and her past.

5. Character vs. Nature

Ah, the Moby Dick of it all. Characters battle nature to better understand themselves and the world. It can also result in them saving their loved ones or society as a whole—or not.

This conflict can put characters in a literal fight against nature. You could write something similar to The Day After Tomorrow, where people have to survive catastrophic natural events caused by human destruction.

You might write about plagues or apocalypses that change the natural world as your characters know it. They may have to battle zombies for the rest of their lives or rebuild their society after a virus sweeps through humanity.

Character vs. Nature conflict can also include illnesses. Cancer is part of the natural world, which humans have little control over starting or preventing in themselves or others. The Fault in Our Stars utilizes this conflict because the protagonists both fight cancer throughout the plot.

6. Character vs. Supernatural

Supernatural stories are very popular with readers. It covers an extensive list of potential characters within this conflict genre, such as:

  • Ghosts
  • Gods
  • Demons
  • Aliens
  • Religious characters
  • Myths come to life

Supernatural characters always represent something beyond their physical or non-physical forms. Gods might make protagonists grapple with universal truths, like good vs. evil. Aliens challenge characters in their understanding of the galaxy and what it means to be human.

Character vs. Supernatural battles can be fun to read while covering dense topics. Picture The Odyssey, It, and even Stranger Things to see how this conflict plays out across media forms.

7. Character vs. Fate

Fate could fit within supernatural conflicts, but it can also stand on its own. Supernatural elements may help the protagonist avoid, learn from or accept their inevitable fate. It could also help them change it.

Frodo faces this conflict in The Lord of the Rings. His fate is to destroy the ring in Mordor, but he goes back and forth with accepting that fate based on how the plot makes it more difficult.

Sometimes characters don’t even know they’re battling their fate—but the reader does. While you’re reading Wicked, you’ll follow Elphaba as she chases her dream to defy prejudices and become the Wizard’s partner. Meanwhile, the reader knows she has to become the Wicked Witch of the West.

Play With Types of Conflict

You might feel stuck in your story because the characters solve their conflict too early in your plot. The conflict may also prove to be too small for a long-form story, so you may have to introduce a second type of conflict that spins out from however the first type of conflict gets solved.

You can absolutely have multiple types of conflict in a story if you want to. Just be sure to follow each type through to their resolutions. Otherwise, you risk finishing your work with loose ends and leaving readers unsatisfied.

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