Conflict is necessary to give depth to your characters and obstacles for them to overcome in the plot. This ensures that your readers will stay excited through the whole narrative and take it on twists and turns that they won’t expect or that challenge whether the story will go the way they think. There are two types of conflict, and three levels of these to explore. Here are some different ways of creating conflict that will help you in crafting the perfect plot and characters.
Inner and Outer Conflict
Conflict can be broken into two categories: Inner (or internal) and outer (or external)
Inner/internal conflict is when a character feels conflicted in their thoughts and mind. This might be triggered by a character flaw or a struggle with their morals or beliefs. A character could have a flaw or a fear that holds them back or that they need to face in order to develop and continue their journey in the narrative. They will often need to overcome this, and this will develop their character arc.
Outer/external conflict is something a character faces and battles with in the story, but has no control over. These will stand in the way of the character’s goal and journey. These can be split into 3 key types:
Character vs. Character – This conflict is caused when two characters in the narrative are pitted against each other. This may be due to conflicting desires, ideas or viewpoints, or perhaps they have the same goal but different viewpoints on how to get there, or what to do if they win. When writing this conflict, ensure that the matter of disagreement is engaging and at the core of the plot. Think about who’s side you want the reader to take, or perhaps they can sympathise with both, but you must capture the essence of what the disagreement means to the characters through excellent characterisation.
Character vs. Society – Here, the character is struggling against the forces of society. This could be a societal norm the character disagrees with, a government ruling/law that oppresses them, or even a judgement from wider society that the character struggles to face. You can choose to personify the issues and disagreements through characters, or through challenges and complications the character must face. These can symbolise the wider issues that the characters is conflicted with and must overcome.
Character vs. Nature – With this conflict, it is the forces of nature that threaten or destroy the characters’ lives. This could range from natural disasters, infectious diseases to animals or any other natural phenomenon. As nature is a wild and uncontrollable force, this battle requires your characters to make difficult decisions and develop/use their skills. What’s more, this form of conflict can often bring to light wider societal issues, or deeper character flaws, and with no dialogue or characterisation of this silent opponent, cause your character to look inwards to find the answer.
3 Levels of Conflict
Conflict can also be split into three different levels, in terms of how it affects the characters. These relate to the already discussed ideas of inner and external conflict, but can be used to help further your understanding when creating conflict in your narrative, and how it will affect your characters.
Extra personal – This level of conflict is external, as we have no control over it, but it is something that affects us all. The way it affects us is not personally, but rather in a wider scope of our lives and the choices we can make due to our wider circumstances. Examples of extra personal conflict include war, societal norms and the environment.
Personal – This refers to the things we, and the others close to us in our lives, are personally involved. We have some control over these conflicts, however others are likely to be involved, making it harder to manage or resolve. Examples of personal conflicts include relationships and family conflicts.
Inner – As already discussed, inner conflict is that which an individual battles in their thoughts and mind. Examples of inner conflict include body image, heartache and emotion.
It is vital you consider what conflict your character or characters will face in your narrative, and understanding whether it is inner or outer conflict, as well as on what level the character will be affected will ensure it is clearly written and elegantly solved in your plot. What conflict are you currently using in your WIP? Leave a comment below!