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Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Over the next few weeks we are going to focus on different kind of conflicts, what we can learn from each of them, what they provide to our stories and if we have chosen the right kinds for the story we want to tell.

When we are first constructing a story, or sometimes part way into a story we begin to have the question of what kind of conflicts we want. Many authors do not focus on the conflict as their first point of story generation. Perhaps world building, character arcs and character building are more important. Inside of character building we usually will see growth due to conflict but sometimes an author will say something like, “I want a person who is scared of everything to work toward becoming a little more extroverted, or at least not afraid of everyone.” This is a great story arc. It works for kids’ books, teen books and adult books alike.

Not all conflicts are grand epic battles, and most of the probably shouldn't be.

Before we can answer, "Do you have the right kind of conflicts," we need to talk about what these types are.

Usually people describe five big conflicts that all conflict falls into.

1) Person versus self.

2) Person versus person.

3) Person versus society, or many persons.

4) Person versus god/higher sentient power.

5) Person versus nature.

You could walk the characters down any one of these trials and tribulations to learn how they will go from, let’s say a) terrified introvert, to b) functional unafraid introvert.

In this example, we aren’t trying to cure them of being an introvert, because there is nothing wrong with that. I am an introvert. We are, however, trying to have them find their own dragon to slay, so that they are more at peace with their place in the world. How would each of these play out?

Person versus self may take the shape of a story about a character wrestling with their own memories. Maybe they have a traumatic memory that made them fear people or certain kinds of interactions. We will get to see how that memory shaped them and how they perhaps break down that memory to enable them to interact with others. Likely we will see examples throughout the story where they want to act a certain way, but fear prevents it, and then they slowly manage to come to grips with that fear and overcome it.

Person versus person may take the form of a bully, or another individual in a position of relative social power over the protagonist. They will be the instrument in the world holding them down, perhaps always speaking negatively of them or always making fun of them to keep their self esteem low. Maybe it’s a boss, a coworker or someone else who talks over them all the time, contradicts their ideas or belittles every recommendation in underhanded ways. We might get to see them confront this person indirectly or directly.

Person versus society, or perhaps a local group of people will perhaps focus on the aspects of assumption in the local society. Maybe the character just switched schools and they are too shy to join the local popular team, or sport group. Perhaps it is a new job, where the expertise of the previous position doesn’t transfer and they find themselves slowly being left out because they do not know how to work with the group, and the cultural dynamic is different. Perhaps their previous company valued email correspondence and slow private thoughts being given to a team leader. The new company is all about fast stand-up meetings with people talking over one another, and her ideas are being left behind because she doesn’t like to speak up as much. How will they deal with these changes? Will they change the society or adapt to it?

Person versus nature, may perhaps take on the form of a science fiction story where the individual is trying experimental gene therapy, where they will be modified to become less introverted by nature. Maybe we explore this subtle shift over time as they become someone else. How will this impact their friendships, family and relationships? What if they don’t like what it does but also don’t want to go back?

Person versus higher power could take on the same forms. Perhaps there is a literal fantasy or mythological element where an individual takes on a higher power directly in anger at the way they were made. We may instead see a religious tussle blending higher power with person versus self a they argue with priests, and their religions canon, pulling in society and others-based conflicts.

What I am trying to paint here, is an image that each conflict type is 1) not unique or stand alone. They will bleed into one another. 2) they are all going to show us different aspects of the struggle and will make for very different stories. For example, in person versus self in many ways the antagonist and protagonist can be different versions of the same person. In person versus person, it will likely be an external antagonist, who has their own desires wants and motivations. A villain if you will.

We will spend the next few writing sections exploring these and considering the differences in how each conflict types has positives and negative, how they might thread into other conflicts, with examples from literature and movies.

What kind of conflicts are you thinking about? Start outlining, and keep writing!

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