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120 Story Conflict Ideas and Examples


Creating conflict in your story is essential for capturing your readers' interest and driving your narrative forward. In order to reveal character motivations and examine deeper meanings within your story, the protagonist must be presented with a challenge derived from conflict. Here are 120 story conflict ideas and examples based on the most common types of conflicts in fiction . From character versus the self to character versus the supernatural, we cover all the major literature conflicts and offer ideas that can get you writing right away.

Need more help? Try out HubSpot's AI Content Writer for additional conflict ideas and examples.

Character vs. self

  • A soldier copes with post-traumatic stress.
  • A surgeon's hands fail him, becoming unsteady and threatening his career and his patients' lives.
  • A young man, determined to become a musketeer, is consistently pulled into duels due to his pride.
  • A criminal seeks to make amends for his past crimes as his life draws to a close.
  • A person is overwhelmed by grief when his lover dies.
  • A parent finds herself repeating a cycle of abuse and strives to break the cycle.
  • A conqueror realizes that he has become a tyrant but struggles to change course.
  • A serial killer struggles to justify his crimes.
  • A rapper stutters each time he gets up in front of a crowd.
  • An evil wizard finds it difficult to make friends.
  • A drug dealer becomes a drug user.
  • A devout Catholic doesn't want to admit to herself that she is gay.
  • A student who is an exceptional singer wants to try out for the school musical but has stage fright.
  • A man's girlfriend gets pregnant, but he isn't ready to be a father.
  • A child blames himself for his parents' divorce.
  • An old woman wishes to reconnect with her family but is slowly losing her memory.
  • A woman wishes to travel the world but is too scared to leave her home.
  • A man is rich beyond his wildest dreams but has become increasing lonely in the process.
  • A man wishes to reconnect with his high school sweetheart but is ashamed to talk about what he has done with his life after graduation.
  • A woman is about to walk down the aisle at her wedding when she realizes that she isn't ready to be married.

Character vs. character

  • An arsonist evades a detective determined to capture him.
  • A wedding planner is at odds with a bridezilla.
  • Road rage pits two drivers against each other.
  • An author is kept from publishing his book by a publisher who wants to ruin his career.
  • An unhappy customer demands to speak to the manager.
  • An android confronts its creator, demanding to be freed from indentured service.
  • A bully steals a kid's lunch money every day.
  • A referee at a football game wants a quarterback to get hurt during the game.
  • A knight swears to seek vengeance against his tyrannical king.
  • A sailor organizes a mutiny against his captain.
  • A marriage ends in a bitter divorce.
  • Two political candidates campaign against each other.
  • Two college students have a crush on the same person.
  • An entrepreneur discovers that her most trusted employee is building a competing business.
  • A new mother and her mother-in-law battle over the "right way" to care for a new baby.
  • A man confronts the person who assaulted him.
  • A man seeks to find the murderer who killed his father.
  • A mother is unable to connect with her rebellious daughter.
  • A teacher is being harassed by a particularly unruly student.
  • Representatives from two warring nations meet to start peace talks.

Character vs. society

  • A Marxist revolutionary attempts to take down a mega-corporation.
  • A real estate developer faces town opposition to his proposed subdivision.
  • A person with evidence that ghosts exist must convince the world of his findings.
  • A person attempts to stop a fledgling fascist political party from taking over the country.
  • A Franciscan missionary attempts to Christianize the indigenous peoples of the New World.
  • A teacher struggles to convince a town to provide more school funding.
  • A man chains himself to a tree in order to prevent it from being cut down by a new building development.
  • A doomsday prophet attempts to convince others that the end is near.
  • A private investigator must convince the media that a popular elected official is corrupt.
  • A Mormon woman decides she wants to become part of the priesthood.
  • A town shuts down your restaurant due to a health code violation.
  • A woman in 1918 fights for her right to vote.
  • A regime declares that a kindergarten teacher is an enemy of the people.
  • A man is ridiculed online after a video of him is turned into an embarrassing meme.
  • A painter creates controversial art that galleries refuse to show.
  • A grocery store owner fights gentrification in his neighborhood.
  • A famous actress is harassed by the paparazzi.
  • A man faces discrimination.
  • A person is permanently banned from playing a MMORPG.
  • An undercover spy is exposed and hunted down by several governments.

Character vs. nature

  • After a plane crash, a person must survive on a desert island.
  • An orphan must scrounge and survive in a far-future urban wasteland.
  • A man tries to escape a cattle stampede.
  • A hiker is bitten by a poisonous snake.
  • A man wakes up to find himself buried to his neck in sand.
  • A kayaker becomes lost at sea.
  • An android struggles to find sources of power during a nuclear winter.
  • A camper becomes lost in the woods.
  • A dream-walker finds himself trapped inside his nightmare.
  • A hiker encounters a grizzly bear protecting her two young cubs.
  • A vampire seeks shelter as dawn breaks.
  • A school crossing guard works during a monsoon.
  • A person flees his town during a forest fire.
  • A person is buried alive inside a coffin.
  • A man accidentally turns down a flooded road during a rainstorm, and his car starts filling with water.
  • A person races to escape an erupting volcano.
  • A person slips through ice while crossing a frozen pond.
  • A person seeks shelter during a hurricane.
  • A farmer's land is plagued by locusts.
  • A person climbs Mount Everest.

Character vs. technology

  • A skydiver jumps out of a plane, but his parachute does not open.
  • A person is stuck inside a virtual reality game.
  • A man is unknowingly brainwashed by his cell phone.
  • An interpreter is replaced by translation technology.
  • A lifeguard at a wave pool finds that the equipment is malfunctioning.
  • A criminal is being hunted down by a police drone.
  • A space pirate finds himself marooned on a derelict craft and must repair the ship.
  • A person must disarm a bomb before it explodes.
  • A person must fight robots in gladiator combat.
  • A person is chased by an artificially intelligent car.
  • A man must initiate an EMP surge before toasters take over the world.
  • A video rental store owner competes with the rise of streaming services.
  • A computer programmer has to destroy the AI she created because it is too powerful.
  • A man is stuck on a broken roller-coaster.
  • A person must stop a worldwide computer virus.
  • A woman travels across the country with a faulty GPS.
  • A woman discovers that her boyfriend is an evil cyborg.
  • An old man must figure out how to use his newly gifted cellphone to call his grandson.
  • A repairman is unable to fix a refrigerator.
  • A broken time machine sends a person to the wrong time period.

Character vs. supernatural

  • A person is possessed by a demon.
  • A clown finds that children are being turned into circus attractions.
  • A person is being hunted by a werewolf during a camping trip.
  • A knight must slay a dragon.
  • A photographer captures monsters by trapping them in photographs.
  • A person is haunted by a ghost.
  • A man gives his girlfriend a vintage engagement ring, but she soon discovers that it carries a terrible curse.
  • A sailor discovers that his wife is a siren.
  • A person is tricked into swapping places with their reflection.
  • A vampire seduces a woman.
  • A mom must find her child, who has been kidnapped by goblins.
  • A man flees a group of zombies.
  • A warrior must fight a dark wizard.
  • A woman must trap the fairies that infest her home.
  • A witch turns a person into a goat.
  • An archeologist awakens a mummy.
  • A boy confronts the monster under his bed.
  • A farmer must deal with cursed vegetables the size of his tractor.
  • A man is lost in an ever-changing maze.
  • An old man must evade the grim reaper for as long as he can.

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Developing Your Story Conflict

creative writing piece conflict

  • A character struggling with her relationship with a difficult parent (the struggle is the problem).
  • An argument that takes place at the dinner table (the argument is the problem).
  • A character’s romantic interest in a man who is interested in another woman (his lack of interest in her is the problem).
  • Identify something that your character really wants, the character’s goal in the story.
  • Identify a problem or an obstacle in the character’s path, which the character MUST solve in order to reach his or her goal.
  • Think about what actions the character will take to try to overcome the problem or obstacle and reach his or her goal. And think about what new problems or complications might arise as the character takes these actions. The character’s actions to deal with the problem, and the consequences of these actions, will be potential events or scenes for your story.

More help with developing a story plot

  • Our eight-week online course on story structure
  • What is plot? An introduction
  • List of articles on how to write a story

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7 Types of Conflict in Literature: A Writer's Guide

In literature, conflict is any struggle that characters must overcome to achieve their goal. It can be a ‘real world’ obstacle or antagonist (external conflict) or some inner turmoil that our heroes must confront before getting what they want or need (internal conflict). 

As we mentioned in the previous section, all good stories are driven by conflict. By understanding what stands between characters and their goals, we can begin to grasp what their stories are about. The seven most common types of conflict in literature are: 

1. Character vs. Character(s)

2. character vs. society, 3. character vs. nature, 4. character vs. technology, 5. character vs. supernatural, 6. character vs. fate, 7. character vs. self.

In this post, we will analyze these types of conflict and provide examples from the world of popular fiction.

Before we get into some of the more abstract types, let’s first look at what most readers think about when they imagine ‘conflict’.

Pesky people: they cause trouble wherever they go! That’s the crux of this type of external conflict, which you’ll find in many, if not most, stories. "Character versus character" can mean both black-and-white struggles (cops vs. robber, hero vs. villain, etc.), but it can also cover subtler kinds of personal confrontations: romantic entanglements and familial disputes, for example. 

Character vs. character conflict is commonly rendered as the traditional “ protagonist vs. antagonist ” setup, where these two central characters will usually have diametrically opposing goals. For example, the protagonist might be a cat burglar looking to steal a priceless painting, while the antagonist – a corrupt gallery owner — wants nothing more than to stop them.

Examples of character vs. character conflict

Les Misérables: Former convict Jean Valjean restarts his life with a new identity, seeking to create a more just society for the underclasses. He is discovered and pursued by Inspector Javert, whose fanatical devotion to the law has blinded him to the actual injustices being perpetrated by the system.

character conflict | Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe in Les Miserables

The Great Gatsby: Self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby wants nothing more than to win over his childhood crush, Daisy Buchanan. Standing in the way of Gatsby’s goal is Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, an old-money cad with a mile-wide mean streak. 

Don't know how to weave two great characters together into a strong narrative? Check out our free novel writing course. 



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Particularly prevalent in fiction these days, this type of external struggle pits the individual against the collective. In this case, “the collective” might take the form of something like: 

  • an oppressive government, 
  • adults (as seen from a teenager’s perspective), or
  • systemic corruption.

In this type of conflict, society will put pressure on our character to change and fall neatly into order. On the other hand, our protagonist will resist this change and, in extreme cases, will try to bend society to fit their vision. Like the story of David and Goliath, our hero faces an uphill battle, but the reader holds out hope that ‘the little guy’ can overcome a seemingly impossible challenge.

Examples of character vs. society conflict

The Hate U Give: When her friend is shot dead by a cop, African American teenager Starr seeks justice, but finds herself up against a system of structural racism that stretches from the police and media, all the way to her private school and internalized racism.

conflict | A production still from The Hate U Give film adaptation

The Devil Wears Prada : Idealistic university graduate Andrea “Andy” Sachs moves to New York and soon lands a highly coveted position as the junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, the tyrannical editor of a fashion magazine. A fish out of water, Andy enters into a world that directly conflicts with her principles but finds herself compelled to conform to the cut-throat world of fashion journalism in order to fast-track her career.

How do you fancy your chances in a fight against Mother Earth? In this type of conflict, that is exactly what our protagonists are facing. Whether it’s wildlife ( Jaws ), natural disasters ( The Day After Tomorrow ), the weather ( The Perfect Storm ), or a post-apocalyptic landscape ( The Road ), the antagonists in this type of conflict cannot be reasoned with. 

Stories that feature a “character vs. nature” conflict will usually center on a character’s survival. In the absence of a human antagonist, our heroes will often discover that “character vs. self” conflict (something we will touch on later) is at the heart of their narrative arc .

Examples of character vs. nature conflict

The Martian: Stranded on the Red Planet, astronaut Mark Watney must overcome its unforgiving environment and survive long enough to be rescued. Using his resourcefulness, he must overcome the obstacles that Mars presents by growing food and find a way to communicate with Earth.

conflict | A still image from the film, The Martian, with Matt Damon sitting on the surface of Mars

Moby Dick: Ahab, the captain of the Pequod, launches a voyage in search of a white whale that previously took his leg. The crew faces many natural challenges on this ill-fated journey, including storms, harsh waters, and the titular whale Moby Dick.

Conflicts against larger forces are best described by showing, not telling. Take our course below to master this fundamental rule of writing.


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Since the dawn of the industrial age, humanity has had a turbulent relationship with technology. Some see scientific progress as a defiance of God and the natural, while others have used it to question the limits of our morality, patience, and greed. While the idea of ‘character vs. technology’ might summon up the image of a Terminator-like robot apocalypse, this type of conflict could also be as modest as someone struggling to teach their Grandma Millie how to use emojis!

Examples of character vs. technology

Frankenstein : A scientist brings to life a creature made out of spare human parts. This ‘monster’ quickly becomes sentient and exceeds his creator’s wildest expectations, leading to Dr. Frankenstein’s demise on the tundra. Subtitling her book “The Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelly likened her hero to the mythic Greek figure who stole fire from Zeus, putting a fine point on the idea of humans daring to play God.

conflict | Frankenstein and the Creature in the Boris Karloff/James Whale film

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: In the distant future of 1999, bounty hunter Rick Deckard is given the task of retiring (read: killing) a group of androids recently escaped from a Mars colony. The only problem? These synthetic creatures are practically indistinguishable from real people. When Deckard falls for one of these androids, he begins to question the very nature of humanity.

When your hero finds themselves up against something that cannot be explained by logic or science, they are probably in conflict with supernatural forces! While some writers employ this type of conflict to tell rip-roaring tales, supernatural stories can also explore human fears and inexplicable everyday events.

In practice, character vs supernatural conflicts will often see the protagonist face off against the forces of fate, religion, ghosts, gods, demons or aliens.

Examples of character vs supernatural

Ghostbusters: Three disgraced scientists (and a guy they find on Craigslist) set up shop as supernatural pest controllers, ridding New York of hungry ghosts and spectral librarians. But when a Sumerian god arrives looking to enslave the world, our four heroes must answer the age-old question: does bustin’ make them feel good ?

conflict | Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A doctor in Victorian London creates a serum that causes him to become his evil alter-ego, Edward Hyde. Inspired by the real-life case of Deacon Brodie, an upstanding Edinburgh citizen by day and burglar by night, author Robert Louis Stevenson uses this supernatural tale to depict one man’s struggle against his inner demons.

A fight against the supernatural might require detailed worldbuilding, which you can learn all about it in our ultimate guide below.



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Similar to “character vs. supernatural,” this conflict deserves its own entry — if only for its historical significance. “Character vs. fate” can include dealings with God or the gods and their prophecies — where our protagonists desperately try to assert their free will. This is a common trope in Greek tragedies, where the characters can do nothing but endure the destinies befallen to them.

Examples of character vs. supernatural

Macbeth: In Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” the Thane of Glamis receives a prophecy from three witches that foretells his rise to the throne of Scotland. However, the witches also reveal that his buddy Banquo will father a line of kings — which gets Macbeth more than a little worried. In his fight against this fate, Macbeth takes extreme measures that prove to be his undoing. 

Conflict | Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood

Oedipus Rex: Boy meets oracle. Oracle tells boy he will marry his mother and kill his father. In an effort to defy the prophecy, boy kills a stranger (who turns out to be his birth father) and marries a woman (who turns out to be his birth mother). Boy plucks his eyes out in a fit of frustration. It’s a tale as old as time.

If these stories teach us anything, it’s that tragedies are almost always self-inflicted!

Until now, these types of conflicts have seen our heroes deal with external forces. For our final entry on this list, let’s look at what is perhaps the most important conflict of all.

Writer Maxwell Anderson once said that “the story must be a conflict, and specifically, a conflict between the forces of good and evil within a single person”. Though that might be an oversimplification, every interesting story will indeed, at some point, involve a character’s inner dilemma. That’s because, as James N. Frey points out in How To Write A Damn Good Novel , a reader experiences the most empathy for a character when that character is in the middle of some intense inner strife.

Internal strife will stem from a debate that occurs within a character. It might originate from any combination of the character’s expectations, desires, duties, and fears. To get what they want, they must make a choice that threatens to change the very fabric of who they are.

Examples of character vs. self

The Hunger Games : Kind-hearted teen Katniss Everdeen is drafted as a contestant in a deadly reality show staged by a totalitarian government. As per the rules of the game, in the end, there can be only one — to survive, it seems that Katniss must overcome her reluctance to kill. Will she stick by her principles, even if it ultimately results in her death?

conflict | Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

Great Expectation : Pip, a poor Blacksmith’s boy, is plucked from obscurity by a mysterious benefactor and allowed to become a London gentleman. Seeing this as his only chance to ‘better himself’ and win the heart of his childhood crush, Pip finds himself torn between getting everything he ever wanted and protecting his ideals. Will he devote himself to becoming a callous member of the upper-middle crust or remain loyal to his family and authentic self?

Now that you’ve seen the many faces of conflict in a story, it leaves only one question: how does a writer use this knowledge to benefit their own writing? In the final section of this guide, we’ll answer that very question as we show you how to identify and accentuate conflict in a story.

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What is Conflict in a Story and How to Write One in 8 Steps

  • on Jan 28, 2024
  • in Writing Tips
  • Last update: January 29th, 2024

Imagine you wake up, get dressed, make breakfast, and go to work without a single inconvenience. This scenario makes for a great stress-free morning, but not so much a gripping story to tell your coworkers. Now imagine you slipped on a banana peel and scratched your nose. Worse yet, you tore your expensive shirt. Now there’s a story to tell!

Very few stories can exist without some sort of problem. This is especially true for narratives written by authors and screenwriters because stories thrive mainly on conflict. So in order to write a great piece of fiction, you need to first know the answer to the following questions: what is conflict in a story, and how do I get it right?

Two chess pawns of opposite colors representing conflict

Image by Freepik

In this article, we will give you a comprehensive guide to the meaning and applications of conflict in fiction. So let’s dive straight in!

In this article:

  • Conflict in a Story Definition
  • Role of Conflicts in Stories
  • Types of Conflicts in Literature
  • 8 Steps of Creating Conflict in a Story
  • Practical Examples of Conflict in Stories

What Is Conflict in a Story?

Simply put, a conflict is the problem that characters face which forces them to take action in order to solve it. By taking this action, they actively affect the outcome of the problem and the direction that the story takes.

Some works of literature, such as novels, may have one major conflict that lasts from the beginning till the end. Others may have minor conflicts that can be resolved in as little as one or two chapters. Most stories have a blend of both.

While some genres can have big, life-or-death struggles, a conflict can also be as simple as forbidding a child from eating the cookies they want.

What Is the Role of Conflict in a Story?

When you inject conflict into a scene, you challenge your characters by forcing them to solve a problem. Most of the time, characters have to grow or change in order to be able to solve that problem. 

Even the smallest of conflicts can have significant impacts on your story since a conflict can be any (or all) of the following:

  • The main driving force for progressing the plot: Conflict is a vital component of storytelling. Without it, there is no substance to a tale. For instance, a fight that happens for no reason between the characters is not as meaningful as a fight over food or survival.
  • A tool to explore themes or teach morals/lessons: If it’s relevant to your conflict, you can display themes like love, ambition, etc. through the lens of your story. Moreover, exposing your characters to situations that challenge their beliefs or lives offers a powerful opportunity for them to learn profound lessons. In fact, even fluffy slice-of-life stories can utilize minor conflicts to inject deeper meaning into their scenes.
  • A major source of entertainment for your audience: People love drama, and the best way to deliver it in your story is by adding conflict. By integrating conflict skillfully into your story, you create a thrilling and emotionally engaging experience for your readers.

What Are the Four Types of Conflict in Literature?

The type of conflict you will be using in your writing will rely on your genre , your character archetypes (or lack thereof), the tone and setting of the story, and the medium you are writing in (novel, screenplay, comic, etc.). One more thing to note is that it’s common practice to combine types of conflict because it serves to flesh out your story!

Even though it’s hard to sort conflict into types, there are some common categories that describe different aspects and dynamics of a conflict. These categories help us understand the nature of conflicts by providing a framework for analyzing and addressing them. Below are some of the most common categories of conflicts.

1. Internal vs. External

We can categorize conflict based on the source of the problem into two types: internal and external. From the wording, you can guess that internal conflict happens inside a character’s mind, while external conflict is forced on them by a third party. We can highlight the differences between the two types as follows:

  • Internal conflict centers on the character’s internal struggles against their beliefs, morals, wants, and/or needs. This conflict can be a question of emotion, philosophy, or logic. Examples include choosing a worldview, adopting a steadfast belief in an unstable environment, and embracing or rejecting their feelings.
  • External conflict comes from any outside force that doesn’t directly relate to a character’s psychology. It can be caused by an event, a person, or even the forces of nature. You can think of a work demotion, a villain terrorizing the city, or natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.

2 . Physical vs. Philosophical

In the realm of storytelling, conflict can appear in a physical form, like people or objects hindering the hero’s path, or in an abstract form, like religious conflict or mental illness. Both types tell us the nature of the conflict and how it affects the story and/or the characters.

With physical conflict , you have concrete obstacles in your characters’ paths. For example, villains, doomsday devices, and even opinionated family members are sources of physical conflict. Meanwhile, philosophical or moral conflict threatens their abstract beliefs , emotions , and/or state of mind . Non-physical dilemmas such as choosing between feeding an orphan or your own children is an example of a philosophical conflict.

3 . Primary vs. Secondary

Also known as the main vs. side plot, a struggle becomes a primary or secondary conflict according to its impact on the characters and the plot. The table below summarizes the differences between these two types:

4 . Resolved vs. Open-Ended

One final decision to make is whether or not you want to resolve the conflict of your story. This is not a type of conflict as much as it is a choice you make when crafting your plot. Leaving the ending up for interpretation might enrich your conflicts if your main plotline relies on abstract concepts or ideas. Meanwhile, resolving conflicts leaves your audience satisfied with knowing the ending of your story.

Making this decision will rely to a great extent on the genre that you’re writing your book in. If you are writing a cozy mystery , for example, it’s common to settle your main conflict and solve the mystery. This helps bring closure to the narrative and offers readers the gratification of seeing the detective’s efforts come to fruition. However, many genres—like horror—can benefit from an open-ended resolution to a story’s climax. This serves to keep the audience guessing about the characters’ fates. If the story is interesting enough, they might even create their own theories for how the story will unfold.

Comparison infographic on types of conflict in a story

How to Create Conflict in a Story in 8 Steps

Now that you know the definition of conflict in a story, we can move on to creating one. But creating conflict isn’t always easy. It takes careful planning and execution to make your conflict believable, effective, and tailored to your characters. Additionally, your writing style must fit the genre you choose.

Here is a robust guide to creating good conflict in your story:

1 . Researching Your Genre

The first step in creating a believable conflict is to check out existing works in your genre. No two books are the same, of course, but there might be some broad patterns and trends to note down for inspiration.

For example, mystery books tend to have suspenseful conflict and lots of tension. Alternatively, fantasy stories usually have complex world-building, so the conflict can come from, say, fictional politics or ancient prophecies.

2. Picking the Theme(s), Tone, and Setting

A light-hearted comedy will have a completely different conflict from a dark, gritty tragedy. Just like your genre, the themes, setting, and tone of your story will greatly impact how you outline your conflict . Let’s talk about why below:

  • Themes: Themes are abstract concepts that the writer wants to communicate through their story. They can lead to conflict in ideas , philosophies , actions , etc. Themes like familial love and ambition, for example, might lead to conflicts such as a struggle for power overruling a kingdom.
  • Tone: The tone of a story is determined by your own attitude and perspective on the themes you are writing about. You can be sympathetic to a cause, critical, judgemental, ironic, and so on. Since your attitude shapes your writing style, your writing will convey a particular mood or message on its own.
  • Setting: The setting is the physical place and time period in which the events of your story are occurring. You can have several settings if you wish, but make sure to properly establish each of them so you don’t confuse your audience. By choosing a particular setting, you are also defining the nature of your conflict and its implications on your characters. For example, a modern-day working woman will have completely different experiences and challenges from a poor maiden in the Medieval period.
  • Mood: The story’s mood is the general atmosphere and feelings that the setting conveys. Determining the mood of your story will influence how light or dark your conflict and writing will be. For example, a Victorian-era manor may give off a romantic but gloomy mood, which can set the tone for a melancholic romance that ends in tragedy.
  • Point of view: Another point you want to think about is choosing the point of view of your story. Generally, the first-person point of view helps your audience connect to the narrator (usually the protagonist) of the story. The third-person point of view, on the other hand, is better suited for following the plot .

You can use the first person for various reasons, among which is making your protagonist’s suffering more relatable for the audience. Alternatively, using the third person places some distance between the audience and the story, which allows you to focus on more than just one character or setting.

3. Determining Character Flaws

Since the conflict has to challenge your characters in some way, you have to know your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. As a result, determining their flaws is a very important step because the conflict they will face must challenge those flaws. So, the question now is, how do you design flaws for a character?

When writers reach this part in the outlining process, they make a common mistake: writing quirks as flaws. As you will see below, there is a huge difference between the two:

  • Flaws are fundamental aspects of your characters’ personalities that can have a negative impact on themselves or their surroundings . These can include narcissism, greed, anger management issues, and insecurities. These flaws are essential to building a complex and believable character, so they often become the target of a conflict.
  • Quirks are unusual or strange things your characters may say, do, or think about differently from others. For instance, they may eat ice cream with a fork, have a catchphrase, or refer to themselves using the third person. Quirks can be positive, negative, or neutral, but they are shallow representations of your character’s behavior and don’t say much about character depth on their own.

A good story will have a good mix of flaws and quirks, as quirks are the icing on the cake that truly brings a character to life and can make them more memorable. However, the conflict must challenge flaws rather than quirks in order for the story to have high stakes. A character with many quirks but no real flaws does not contribute to the stakes of the plot.

4. Giving Your Character(s) an Initial Goal

Now that you have your main character(s) figured out, now is the time to give them a goal they want to achieve at the start of the story. For instance, your character might want to start over in a different career before she finds out that she’s having a baby (conflict). Here, the initial goal is the desire to switch careers, which may or may not change because a conflict is challenging it.

Sometimes the initial desires your character has will stay the same, but sometimes the character will adjust or even completely change them because of the conflict they are facing. By adapting this idea to your story, you are making your character more believable and raising the stakes of your conflict at the same time.

5. Assigning External Obstacles

An obstacle is a physical or non-physical object that stands in the way of characters solving a problem or achieving a goal. Obstacles are perhaps the most well-known element of a good story conflict because they are usually obvious and tend to directly affect characters’ lives.

Naturally, there is a broad range of creative potential that even experienced writers may underestimate when designing obstacles in their characters’ paths. One good example is using simple inconveniences as powerful catalysts for a greater conflict. For instance, your main character might run out of milk and get kidnapped on their way to the store. In that example, the obstacle was running out of milk, and the conflict was getting kidnapped.

This step goes hand-in-hand with your character’s starter goal and the main conflict they will face. If the obstacle makes your characters pause to think of a solution, it counts as an obstacle that causes conflict.

6. Aligning the Main Challenge to Character(s)’ Flaws

If there is any growth for your characters to achieve, it can often happen when their flaws are challenged in an unavoidable way that forces them to think or act differently. More importantly, the conflict must relate to your character profile; if your character has insecurities about their appearance, for example, the conflict can come from participating in beauty contests or having a cruel parent who is obsessed with vanity.

When matching conflicts with character flaws, you have a number of routes you can take. Most authors like to change some aspects of their main characters’ personalities over time, but this is not a strict requirement for resolving story conflict. Some authors use what is known as a “flat character arc”—where the main character does not change fundamentally, but they do create such changes in the people around them. But even then, the conflict still has to challenge the characters in a way that impacts them and their environment.

7. Using Atmosphere and Writing Style to Liven Up Conflict

Now that you have your main conflict outlined, why not add some flair to it? The most common piece of writing advice of “show, don’t tell” applies best here. This is where you take advantage of language, style, and character dialogue to fully immerse your audience in the story. Your ultimate goal is to transport readers to your fictional world, making them feel as if they’re experiencing the characters’ struggles and triumphs firsthand.

Here’s how you can use atmosphere and writing style to enrich conflict as you write your story:

  • Atmosphere: As you’re writing your story, you are also creating an atmosphere that fits the conflict, be it dull or somber, full of intense action, or comedic and light-hearted. You can do this by describing the areas your characters visit, the weather , and other aspects of the setting . Another way to establish atmosphere is to have character dialogue that reflects their environment and setting. For instance, you can set up a dark, scary atmosphere by using stormy weather, an abandoned cemetery, and whispered dialogue.
  • Writing style: Using certain words and phrases can turn a bland argument into a showdown, witty banter, or funny dialogue . Short sentences and simple words add more punch to your writing, while longer sentences and poetic vocabulary can paint pretty pictures in your audience’s minds. As such, your writing style will greatly influence how your audience feels about the events of the conflict.

8. Resolving Conflict vs. Leaving It Open-Ended

Most stories include resolutions to their main conflict. It is the best way to bring relief to your characters and your audience after a long struggle. And yet, many writers take the risk of leaving conflict unresolved or open to interpretation.

There is no clear answer or method of instruction for resolving conflict. With that said, you might see some genres leaning towards one or the other due to their unique traits. For example:

  • Cozy mysteries , high fantasy , and other genres that require detailed worldbuilding might favor resolving the main conflict. The more elaborate the world and its story, the more likely that multiple loose ends will remain after the story’s climax. Leaving too many of those loose ends unresolved might leave many readers dissatisfied with how you ended the story.
  • Literary fiction , slice-of-life stories, horror , and other genres that rely less on worldbuilding might work well with an unresolved ending. Since these genres tend to have introspective writing styles, the conflict can then be abstract enough that it makes more sense to leave the ending open to interpretation.

That is not to say that fantasy stories must have satisfying endings, or that you cannot resolve conflicts in literary fiction. At the end of the day, whether or not you settle your conflict will rely on every part of your story and your outlook on its themes.

Checklist infographic on the steps of creating conflict in a story

Need to print out this checklist? Download it here !

Examples of Conflict in a Story

Now that we are aware of the different types of conflict in literature and how to create one, let’s explore how this knowledge can apply to real-world media. Here are some examples of popular stories making use of conflict and what you can learn from them in practice.

1. Short Stories/Novellas

Short stories and novellas usually limit conflict to one main struggle and maybe another minor one that is resolved quickly or does not affect the main plot. Let’s take A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as an example of a novella.

  • Overview: The main character, a gnarly, bitter old man named Scrooge, hates Christmas and mocks any who celebrate it. However, the ghost of his late business partner, Marley, visits him on Christmas Eve and explains how his greed and selfishness have led to an endless existence as a chained spirit. After each Christmas spirit takes him on a journey, Scrooge realizes that his perspective of life is very different from reality.
  • Conflict analysis: Scrooge is a lonely man who lives in fear of unpredictable human interaction. However, the other characters thrive on it and live happily, believing that the best way to live is to share your life with others. In the end, Scrooge’s journey motivates him to make a conscious effort to honor Christmas and share his wealth with those who truly need it.
  • Types of conflict: The novella’s main conflict is split into two categories: internal and external. Scrooge’s external struggles with Christmas celebrations and the visions that the spirits show him reflect his internal conflict and his twisted, fear-fueled outlook on life.

What makes this story truly successful is how well the conflict aligns with Scrooge’s character and his flaws. Whether it’s internal or external, Scrooge suffers through many world-shattering realizations that force him to reevaluate his outlook on life and thus grow as a character.

Novels have the privilege of being lengthy, which helps authors explore conflict and characters in more detail. Since the minimum length of a novel is fifty thousand words, it’s much easier to flesh out conflict and expand character arcs . We will take a deeper look at conflict in novels by examining Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

  • Overview: Throughout the novel, a group of misfits and thieves called the Dregs band together to perform an impossible heist by breaking into a foreign fortress. Along the way, they face external conflict in the form of physical enemies, like the soldiers of the fortress and the merchant who hired them. They also face an internal conflict between their innermost desires for love and redemption and the beliefs they’ve adopted as they struggle to get by.
  • Conflict analysis: At the end of the novel, each character has undergone some form of growth. While it doesn’t change their grey morals, this maturity does give them the incentive to take down the corrupt merchant and save their captured friend, Inej. Kaz Brekker, the protagonist, appears to have been the most changed, going as far as to strike a deal with his arch-nemesis, Pekka Rollins, in order to save Inej.
  • Types of conflict: There are several types of conflict present in the novel. While the whole gang shares a common goal of obtaining money, each individual has their own thoughts and beliefs that clash with their true desires. This inner clash generates a significant degree of internal conflict among them. For example, Kaz’s harsh upbringing has made him emotionally distant and unable to cope with his feelings for Inej. Plus, infiltrating an enemy fortress is a good example of physical external conflict .

3. Screenplays/Movies

Conflicts with more structure shine best in screenplays as most of them are segmented into three acts, each with its own side conflict. Most screenwriters will structure their main and side conflicts very clearly so that the script translates well on the screen. Let’s take a look at the first Hunger Games movie to see an example of a screenplay conflict in action.

  • Overview: The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers in her sister’s place to join a barbaric televised competition in which teenagers, adults, or even children fight each other to survive. While fending off other contestants, she toils in the dangerous arena to defend herself from natural hazards like predatory animals as well as search for food and water.
  • Conflict analysis: Katniss faces conflict every step of the way, from her fear of violence to physical fights against kids from other districts. She must also try to survive without compromising her morals. By the final arc of the movie, she does win the competition alongside another contestant from her district, but at the cost of making up a love story to win TV viewers’ sympathy.
  • Types of conflict: Throughout the movie, you see external conflict in the characters fighting for their lives (character vs character) and a dystopian governing system (character vs society). Even if Katniss’s main focus is on staying alive during the Hunger Games, she is also fighting for freedom and rebelling against the dictatorship of her nation. Plus, she is internally torn between her hatred for violence and her will to survive against all odds.

4. In Comics

Finally, comics strike the middle ground between novels and screenplays when it comes to conflict; they usually follow structural plot arcs like the Three-Act model, but these arcs can vary in length from a few pages to several volumes. Additionally, conflicts in comics can rely on images and also on dialogue, just like scripts. They can also appear in world-building texts or explanations that are usually written in the form of footnotes. To illustrate those points, we will look at the plot of Death Note , a Japanese manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

  • Overview: A genius high school student named Light Yagami finds a strange notebook called the Death Note. By writing a person’s name in it while imagining their face, Light can kill anyone he pleases. This plants the idea of a savior complex in his mind as he strives to rid the world of criminals and create a utopia in which he will rule supreme. When the authorities catch onto Light’s actions, the world’s greatest detective, a mysterious man who goes by L, demands to work the case alongside the National Police Agency in Japan. He becomes the biggest antagonist to Light’s quest, and the duo starts to run in circles around one another, each trying and failing to uncover the other’s identity.
  • Conflict analysis: While the manga does have a very clear philosophical conflict between Light and L, the main emphasis is on the physical conflict between the two as they each try to catch the other. However, both of them do experience internal conflict throughout the manga.
  • Conflict types: In terms of internal conflict, Light initially doubts himself and his actions because those actions contradict traditional ideals of human life. On the other hand, the more involved L gets with the case and with Light, the more conflicted he feels. He struggles to balance his duty as a law-abiding detective with his own morals and beliefs about justice.

Final Thoughts

Conflict is a vital part of any story, and it is important to carefully align your character’s traits with the struggles they will face. With that said, if you’re a writer who has a hard time brainstorming conflicts, then you can use the tips in this article to make the process easier for yourself. Writing conflict can be a loaded task, but it can also be fun!

Keeping the Suspense Alive: 5 Tips to Write a Perfect Cliffhanger

How to Write a Compelling Story Outline: A Step-by-Step Guide

Elements of Fiction: A Quick Guide to Writing the Perfect Story

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How To Create Story Conflict

Learning how to create conflict in your stories is crucial.  Imagine reading a story that begins where the main character has no flaws or fears, lives in a great environment, has happy well-balanced relationships, a great job and boss, has fantastic hobbies, plenty of money etc.

In other words I am asking you to think of a story that gets better and better. A character starts off happy, remains happy and gets happier. Does this sound interesting?

Then imagine reading more and more pages about this wonderful person and their wonderful life. How many more pages do you think you will turn before you put the book down? The same goes with films and television – conflict is everything.

I think a good book is one you are dying to get your friends to read so you can discuss it and one where you have to bite your tongue not to tell them what happens in the end.

None of us want to know the end of a story before we have read it because we are aware that the enjoyment of ‘finding out’ will be spoiled. What is the point of reading a book if you are not the least bit curious to know both what happens next, and how it happens?


This is why, whether we consciously realise it or not, we all want something to happen to the characters in a story. By this I mean something that affects the character enough to change their path and set them off on a journey through obstacles. Simply put, this is what makes a story differ from a straightforward report or list of events. This is conflict. If we want to create a story we need to create conflict.

Some people like to see characters overcome all the obstacles and end up at the proverbial happy ending and some of us like an ambiguous ending where the reader gets to project their own thoughts and imagination on to an undefined future and are left with something to think about.

The question of story versus character is one that has provoked much debate among writers. There are those who argue strongly that it is character that matters most and that character development should take priority over story. The argument goes that it is the revelation of the layers of character underneath the initial observation of looks and personality that make the story.


I would argue that we need both to create a character.

Conflict is change and this is what forces hidden and therefore interesting characteristics to the surface. We are aware of this in our lives. There are people who surprise you by their response to conflict or crisis and those who don’t – who are the most interesting?

Are people who do exactly what you expect all the time interesting? We might like them but sometimes it takes a crisis to learn ‘the truth’ about a person.  The events, obstacles, etc. in a good story inform this crisis. Crisis is crucial when you create a plot for your story.

In real life crisis is something that varies from person to person and so it is for stories. A crisis doesn’t have to be huge to be interesting – it just has to cause conflict – problems and obstacles for our characters to overcome. Without this there is no story, just description and no matter how wonderful your description is, it is not what turns pages.

Best of luck with your writing.

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7 Different Types of Conflict in Literature with Examples

7 Different Types of Conflict in Literature with Examples

In literature, even in its earliest forms, conflict is a crucial and major narrative element. Alongside other literary components, conflict helps develop the story and propels the overall storyline.

It is what brings spice and entertainment value to the story. Writers are always faced with the conundrum of creating a story that is compelling and interesting. Here are 7 types of conflict in literature to use in your writing: 

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Himself
  • Man vs. Destiny
  • Man vs. The Elements
  • Man vs. The Unknown
  • Man vs. Society
  • Man vs. Technology

The use of conflict, if melded well in the narrative, is a handy literary technique to address this entertainment aspect.

Now, let’s delve into what conflict is and its importance in writing a story.

What Is Conflict in Literature?

What Is Conflict in Literature?

Conflict is a literary device in the literature that shows the struggle between two opposing factors. The conflict is meant to create tension within the story and move the story along.

There are two categories of conflict, which are internal and external conflicts. The internal conflict takes place in the character’s mind while the external conflict comes from outside forces.

These external conflicts usually come in the form of antagonists or uncontrollable circumstances.

1. Man vs. Man

The man vs. man type of conflict pits two characters against one another. This is a very popular type of conflict because it compels the two characters to face off during the climax of the story.

It is this upcoming event that puts spice into the man vs. man type of conflict.

The Iliad. The Iliad is one of the earliest written works that humanity has ever known, and it centers on the epic Trojan War. At the very center of this conflict were two warriors—Achilles and Hector.

Achilles was a warlord who fought for the Greeks while Hector was the prince of Troy. Achilles was a conqueror of men—proud—and a lover of war.

Whereas Hector was a defender of his people and only wished to save his beloved nation from the predations of marauding Greeks.

Both men were sublime warriors, but that is where the similarities end. Both men are also fated to meet in a climactic battle where only one man lives.

2. Man vs. Himself

The man vs. himself type of conflict pits the main character against his or her own impulses and inner demons. This type of conflict creates a more introspective read and pits the main character against his or her own inner demons.

Crime and Punishment. One of the best examples of man vs. himself is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic book Crime and Punishment.

The story follows the moral quandaries of a former law student named Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. He lives in poverty and hates a pawnbroker who he considers a very greedy and detestable person.

He kills her and steals her belongings. He soon goes on an introspective journey where he wrestles with his inner demons.

3. Man vs. Destiny

The “man vs. destiny” conflict pits the main character against destiny itself. The main concept for this type of conflict is that the main character is fated to fulfill a certain action and strives to change his or her destiny.

Oedipus Rex. One of the most famous examples of man vs. destiny is the myth of Oedipus. Born the son of Laius the king, he was prophesied to kill his father.

Fearing for his life, the king has Oedipus sent away to be killed. However, he survives and is adopted by a shepherd, and later raised as the son of another king.

Years later, while on a journey, Oedipus meets an old man and his servants. They get into an argument, and he accidentally kills the old man. The old man turns out to be Laius, his real father.

4. Man vs. The Elements

The “man vs. elements” conflict pits the main character against nature. This type of conflict uses nature as the central antagonist.

Robinson Crusoe. The story of Robinson Crusoe follows the adventures of a young man named Robinson Crusoe who is shipwrecked and marooned on a deserted island.

He faces a life of hardship and loneliness. He is a castaway with only his dogs and farm animals for company. He also has to inhabit a land where the flora and fauna are unknown to him.

5. Man vs. The Unknown

The “man vs. the unknown” concept pits the main character against the unknown nature of life itself. This type of conflict gives your story a more foreboding feel.

Kafka on the Shore. Renowned author Haruki Murakami’s immersive story follows the journey of a young teenaged boy named Kafka who runs away from home. The story has a metaphysical feel that uses various unknown forces as the conflict in the book.

6. Man vs. Society

This type of conflict pits the main character against society as a whole. With this type of conflict, society is usually portrayed as corrupt and is the main evil in the story.

The main character must strive to change or at least survive in this corrupt society.

Les Miserable. This classic by Victor Hugo follows the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who makes his fortunes and becomes the mayor of a town. However, despite reaching such a lofty post, his past as an ex-convict still haunts him.

7. Man vs. Technology

This type of conflict pits the main character against technological advancements. The main concept for this kind of conflict is that despite technology’s incredible advantages, there is still a dark side to it.

1984. This classic by George Orwell takes place in the year 1984. It is a dystopian future ravaged by war and civil strife.

The world is now under a totalitarian regime where everyone is forced to adhere to the regime’s rules. The regime uses television screens, cameras, and hidden microphones to keep tabs on the people.

How to Use Conflict in a Story

The ingenuity of a writer in building a storyline varies; some have a solid idea from the beginning while others let the plot present itself as they are writing it.

Regardless of one’s process and writing technique, these tips can be handy in introducing conflict in your story.

1. Creative writing prompts for creating conflict

Aside from knowing the types of conflict, you will also need to use creative writing prompts in order to pull off your conflict properly. If you are going to write writing prompts for your conflict, it does not have to be overly long.

What’s important is that you have a list of writing prompts. Write whatever comes to mind and use your imagination freely.

2. Base your conflict choice according to your genre

When it comes to writing conflict for your story, you should base it according to the genre you are writing in. For example, if you are going to write a story about survival, then you could use the man vs. nature type of conflict.

On the other hand, if you are going to write a book about warfare, then you could use the man vs. man or man vs. society kind of conflict.

3. Your characters are a key element for your conflict choice

Yet another aspect to take into account is your characters. Make sure to create compelling characters and flesh them out.

After fleshing them out, you should make conflicts that will truly challenge your characters. The more difficult the conflict to deal with, the more compelling your story will be.

4. Your antagonist is key to creating great conflict

If you want to enhance your story further, you should write great antagonists. Remember that your antagonist is the main source of conflict within your story.

Take the time to fully flesh out your antagonist and strategically place him or her in your story.

Writing is a skill inasmuch as it is knowledge; it takes constant practice to get better at it as well as understanding to master the art.

Learning the fundamental and basic literary elements, such as conflict, can help you, as a writer, develop your own unique style and content.

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    creative writing piece conflict


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  1. How to Write Compelling Conflict: Create Conflict in Stories

    4. Create a powerful antagonist. In creative writing, the conflict must be dramatic. Create an opposing force that is just as strong, if not stronger, than your main character. Your protagonist needs to work to overcome obstacles and reach the story goal. A strong antagonist will create a compelling emotional conflict.

  2. 120 Story Conflict Ideas and Examples - ServiceScape

    Creating conflict in your story is essential for capturing your readers' interest and driving your narrative forward. In order to reveal character motivations and examine deeper meanings within your story, the protagonist must be presented with a challenge derived from conflict. Here are 120 story conflict ideas and examples based on the most common types of conflicts in fiction. From ...

  3. How to Create Conflict in a Story (with 6 Simple Questions)

    1. Warner Huntington III, the ex-boyfriend and dream-husband. Warner represents the external conflict between Elle and a world that undermines and underestimates women, especially when they don’t fit into a traditional, conservative mold. 2. Vivian Kensington, Elle’s law school classmate and Warner’s new girlfriend.

  4. Developing Your Story Conflict - Creative Writing Now

    A character’s romantic interest in a man who is interested in another woman (his lack of interest in her is the problem). If you’re having trouble developing your story conflict, try following these steps: Identify something that your character really wants, the character’s goal in the story. Identify a problem or an obstacle in the ...

  5. 7 Types of Conflict in Literature: A Writer's Guide - Reedsy

    By understanding what stands between characters and their goals, we can begin to grasp what their stories are about. The seven most common types of conflict in literature are: 1. Character vs. Character (s) 2. Character vs. Society. 3. Character vs. Nature. 4.

  6. What is Conflict in a Story and How to Write One in 8 Steps

    Here is a robust guide to creating good conflict in your story: 1. Researching Your Genre. The first step in creating a believable conflict is to check out existing works in your genre. No two books are the same, of course, but there might be some broad patterns and trends to note down for inspiration.

  7. How To Write Conflict in Fiction | The Writing Cooperative

    Dialogue. Dialogue is an obvious place to build conflict. However, as with any other element of fiction, make sure to keep it purposeful and cut the small talk. Each character should have their own unique voice given their differing agendas. Therefore, know who the players are, their motivations, and how they clash.

  8. How to create conflict - Practical Creative Writing

    Simply put, this is what makes a story differ from a straightforward report or list of events. This is conflict. If we want to create a story we need to create conflict. Some people like to see characters overcome all the obstacles and end up at the proverbial happy ending and some of us like an ambiguous ending where the reader gets to project ...

  9. Person vs. What Now: Types of Conflict in Creative Writing

    She has an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics and teaches writing at colleges and writing organizations/ conferences. Her collection of modern fairy tales When Magic Calls won the CIPA EVVY Herb Tabak (best fiction) book award in 2021 and is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats.

  10. 7 Types of Conflict in Literature to Use in Your Writing with ...

    Man vs. Destiny. Man vs. The Elements. Man vs. The Unknown. Man vs. Society. Man vs. Technology. The use of conflict, if melded well in the narrative, is a handy literary technique to address this entertainment aspect. Now, let’s delve into what conflict is and its importance in writing a story.