Different Types of Conflict

Last week, I had written a summary of the second act of a story because we were entering into the middle of the year. For those that hadn’t read it (shame, shame, shame), the second act is the middle of the three act structure.

This week, I am going to be discussing conflicts because…. obvious reasons. But I won’t be talking about the real world, no, that’s too…real… instead I’ll be talking about conflict in the literary world.

Person vs Person

Yup, you guessed it. This form of conflict is found when the hero and the nemesis of the story are in direct conflict with one another. Typically, this is the most common story conflict. I recently read a book by John Grisham, “Camino Island”, and the conflict there was between the hero, a female author named Mercer Mann, and the nemesis, a male book seller that often dabbles in black market exchanges whose name is Bruce Cable. Mann had to figure out if Cable had some stolen merchandise and, as these stories seem to go, they had an affair. Even though Mann’s objective was to get inside Cable’s inner circle and figure out where the stolen goods were, she still had to try to outwit Cable.

Person vs Society

The title really says it all. The hero tries to combat the evils of society. Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is one of the classical examples of this type of conflict. Hester Prynne’s has been victimized by the society she lives in because she had an affair which led to her being pregnant without being married first. There are other great examples, but if I had to grade this one in terms of the type of conflict, I’d give “The Scarlet Letter” an A. That’s right, I went there.

Person vs Nature

We’ve all seen these during the Mayan Calendar Apocalypse. Disaster movies copy and pasted the same formula. Hero(s) have to defeat Mother Nature from extinguishing life from Planet Earth. My favorite film that signifies this type of conflict is the classic, Sharknado (2013). It’s really got everything you possible could love in a disaster film. Not only does it combine the plots of Twister (1996) and Jaws (1975), but it also includes epic fights with chainsaws and helicopters. If you’d like to waste a few hours of your life, go watch it. You’ll definitely regret it. Having said that, it does illustrate the whole man vs nature conflict pretty well.

Person vs Self

Very rarely does this type of conflict mean a hero fighting against a literal replication of themselves. If that does happen, then it is a physical embodiment of the hero’s inner conflict. Which is what the hero would face in this type of story conflict. Examples of this could be questions of faith or culture, moral conflicts, love, or finding out someone you idolized wasn’t what the hero thought they’d be like. Take “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee. It’s a sequel of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and follows Scout as she comes home from New York. She finds out that her father isn’t the perfect pillar of morality that she thought he was. The conflict is her trying to come to terms with her own feelings.

Person vs Technology

This conflict has been pretty popular over the last twenty to thirty years. Prime examples are the Terminator or the Matrix franchises. This conflict often occurs when humans develop technology faster than they can handle and they’re forced to deal with it. Often, it ends with violence. In most cases, humans are decimated and forced to act as rebel cells hunkering down in a barren wasteland.

Person vs Supernatural

The source of conflict is supernatural, obviously. Check most of Stephen King’s body of work and you’ll find something that fits this conflict. Killer clowns, killer cars, killer children with super-powers. King’s the king of supernatural conflict. If you’d like to watch a television show that covers this conflict then check out Supernatural on the CW. It’s excellent.

Finding conflict isn’t a hard thing to do these days. It could be violent protests, social drama, a new monsoon that’s hitting the coast, or maybe something more sinister…Twitter rants. What you have to do as an author is pick what conflict your hero will face and then write the story of how they win. Or, maybe how they lose. Because even though there’s conflict, the hero may lose. But, that’s a rant for another day.

Keep calm America, and write on.



Categories: Mastering the Craft

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