Creating Conflict: Understanding the Basics

What is conflict and why is it at the heart of every story? Creating conflict drives the plot forward, creates tension and makes readers care about what happens to your characters.

But what exactly does creating conflict mean in literature, and how can you use conflict to create interesting stories? In this post, we’ll explore conflict types, plus offer tips for creating and resolving conflict.

Conflict is key to good storytelling. It keeps the story going and keeps the reader hooked. Conflict in literature is the battle between opposing forces, like characters, ideas, or situations.

Conflict is crucial to creating dynamic stories as it creates tension, raises the stakes, and allows characters to grow and change throughout the narrative.

Types of Conflict

There are four main types of conflict in literature: man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. society, and man vs. nature.

Man vs. Man

Man vs. man conflict occurs when two or more characters have opposing goals or values. Here are some examples:

♦ The Montagues vs. Capulets in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

♦ Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader in Star Wars

♦ Edmond Dantès, vs. Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

♦ Huck Finn vs. his abusive alcoholic father, Pap in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

♦ Nick vs. Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

♦ Mikael Blomkvist, vs. Hans-Erik Wennerström in The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

♦ Michael Corleone, vs. Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather by Mario Puzo

These are just a few examples of books that have a Man vs. Man conflict. It’s a common type of conflict in literature and can explore themes such as power, revenge, and betrayal.

Man vs. Self

Man vs. self conflict happens when a character is struggling with internal issues such as self-doubt or a moral dilemma. Here are some examples:

♦ In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield, is struggling with depression, loneliness, and feelings of alienation from the world around him.

♦ Esther Greenwood, struggling with mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

♦ In Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Raskolnikov, is grappling with guilt and self-doubt after committing a murder.

♦ Dr. Jekyll, wrestles with his own darker impulses and desires, (which are manifested as his alter ego, Mr. Hyde) in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

♦ The Road by Cormac McCarthy: The father and son protagonists are struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world while also wrestling with their own doubts and fears about the future.

These books explore the complex inner lives of their protagonists, who are grappling with internal conflicts that can be just as challenging and difficult to overcome as external conflicts with other characters or the world around them.

Man vs. Society

In man vs. society conflict, a character is usually at odds with the norms or expectations of their society.

Here are some examples:

♦ In 1984, by George Orwell, Winston Smith, struggles against the oppressive totalitarian regime of the Party, which seeks to control every aspect of citizens’ lives and eliminate individual freedom.

♦ Bernard Marx in Brave New World by Aldous Huxley struggles against the rigid social order and scientific conditioning of the World State, which seeks to eliminate any kind of individuality or dissent.

♦ Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, features Guy Montag, who’s standing up to the unfair society that bans books and discourages thinking for yourself?

♦ Offred struggles against the repressive patriarchal society of Gilead, which has taken away her rights and freedoms as a woman in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:

♦ In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen, fights against the tyrannical Panem government which uses the games to stay in power.

These books all explore how individuals can resist and challenge the oppressive structures of society, whether through rebellion, subversion, or simply holding onto their own beliefs and values in the face of adversity.

Man vs. Nature

The man vs. nature conflict occurs when a character is struggling against the forces of nature. Here are some examples:

♦ In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway tells the story of Santiago, a fisherman trying to catch a huge marlin in the ocean. Throughout the story, he’s up against wind, waves and the marlin.

♦ Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who goes to Alaska to live off the land. He needs to take care of himself in a tough and unkind place, dealing with issues like hunger, being out in the elements, and wild animals.

♦ White Fang by Jack London features a half-wolf, half-dog that has to survive in the Yukon Territory, facing problems like tough winters, starving and other animals attacking.

♦ In The Revenant by Michael Punke Hugh Glass, is a frontiersman who is attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead in the wilderness. He must use his survival skills and willpower to make his way back to civilization,

♦ Pi Patel, the main character of Life of Pi by Yann Martel, is stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. He must not only survive the elements but also figure out how to coexist with the dangerous animal.

These books all feature protagonists who must contend with the forces of nature and the challenges posed by a hostile or unpredictable environment. The Man vs. Nature conflict can serve as a powerful metaphor for the human struggle for survival and the resilience of the human spirit.

What are the Elements of Creating Conflict?

There are several elements involved in creating conflict in fiction stories. Here are some of the key elements:


Conflict can come from differences in values, goals, or personalities between characters. Giving characters different and clashing traits can help make a story more engaging.


Conflict happens when characters want different things. When goals clash, it can cause characters issues and create tension.


Roadblocks stop characters from reaching their goals. The bigger the issue, the bigger the struggle. Obstacles could be physical, emotional, or connected to the environment.


What’s on the line if your characters don’t succeed? The bigger the risks, the more drama. The risks range from physical to mental damage.


Where the story takes place can cause problems. A hostile situation, for instance, can create blocks characters must get over, producing tension. Different cultures and social standings can lead to tension between characters.


Conversation can be an effective tool for stirring up trouble. Dialogue between characters can uncover opposing objectives, principles, and sentiments, creating tension and conflict.

Adding these elements to a story can create conflict and keep readers hooked.

Resolving Conflict

Conflict is a necessity for a great story, but it needs to have a good resolution. The resolution should be satisfying, not just an easy way out, and should answer all questions. One way to go is to have the character transform because of the conflict, providing readers with a feeling of growth or emotional relief.

Another effective technique is to use the “yes, but” or “no, and” approach, where the character faces a setback but still manages to make progress, or experiences a setback that makes their situation even worse.

Examples of Creating Conflict 

So far we have discussed types and the importance but here are a few examples of how prominent writers use conflict in their novels:

The Great Gatsby

The plot centres around the conflict between the wealthy and not-so-wealthy in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, is a rich guy who’s head-over-heels for Daisy Buchanan, a high-society gal from a “old money” family. The class difference between them complicates their relationship, which eventually leads to tragedy.

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger: In this book, Holden’s fundamental problem is coming to terms with adulthood and reality. He can’t stand how phony and hypocritical the grown-up world is, and he’s not keen on taking on more grown-up duties.

To Kill a Mockingbird

In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the novel’s conflict reflects the racial tensions and unfairness of the southern U.S. during the ’30s. Scout Finch is a young girl trying to understand the world as she watches the trial of an innocent black man.

The Hunger Games

In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Panem’s oppressive government brings about the conflict in this novel, with the yearly Hunger Games as a battle for survival. To save her sister, Katniss is forced to take part in the Hunger Games – a cruel fight to the death between teens from different districts.

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the book’s dilemma comes from the social norms and gender roles of 19th-century England. Elizabeth Bennet is a strong-willed woman who’s got to work her way through the strict laws of her time as well as confront her own prejudices.

Image by RachH from Pixabay

10 Tips for Creating Conflict

There are lots of ways writers can create conflict in their fictional novels: My advice….

1. Give your characters opposing goals: When two or more characters have different goals or desires, conflict naturally arises as they work to achieve their objectives.

2. Make your characters have clashing personalities: Characters with clashing personalities or values can create tension and conflict, as they struggle to understand and work with each other.

3. Create a power struggle: Power struggles can create tension and conflict between characters, as they vie for control or dominance.

4. Use secrets and lies: Secrets and lies can create conflict as characters try to hide the truth or uncover secrets that others are trying to keep hidden.

5. Introduce an external threat: An external threat, such as a natural disaster or a villainous antagonist, can create conflict as characters work to survive or defeat the threat.

6. Use misunderstandings: Misunderstandings or miscommunications can create conflict as characters misinterpret each other’s actions or intentions.

7. Create a dilemma: A dilemma is a situation where a character must choose between two equally difficult options. This can create conflict as the character weighs the consequences of their choices.

8. Introduce a time limit: A time limit, such as a deadline or a ticking clock, can create conflict as characters race against time to achieve their goals.

9. Use betrayal: Betrayal can create conflict as characters feel hurt, angry, or vengeful towards the person who betrayed them.

10. Show the consequences: Conflict becomes more intense when characters face real consequences for their actions. Show how the conflict affects the characters and the world around them.

Add these tips in to build tension and keep your readers invested in your story.

Last Words on Creating Conflict

To make your stories really stand out, it helps to understand the different conflict types and how to construct and resolve them. Experimenting with conflict and steering clear of typical mistakes can help writers keep readers glued to the pages and produce stories that people won’t forget.

Take Care


Feature image by cottonbro studios on Pexels.



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