Before we go on, it’s important to note that conflict isn’t the same as challenge, such as a big fist fight. A serious lifetime addict not having a cigarette when pregnant is more of a conflict than a martial arts expert beating up twenty baddies.
In this article we’re going to explore four potential areas of conflict: Inner, relationship, organisation and external.
Based on the conflicting desires of the protagonist.
For example, Annette wants revenge for her brother’s murder, but the murderer is her own father, who takes care of her vulnerable mother. The conflict comes between the desire for revenge / the familial love for her father / the wish to protect her mother.
The protagonist ostensibly has full control over inner conflict as it is solely up to them to make the decision.
Based on the opposing desires of individual characters.
For example, Betty wants to go out with Carl, but Carl fancies Darren, and Darren wants to marry Annette to get hold of her mother’s fortune.
The protagonist has some control over relationship conflict, though how much depends on their situation and strength of character.
Based on the conflict with organisations in the wider world. A common one is the police or EvilCorp, but it could be a school, boss, publisher etc. It’s usually characterised by a David and Goliath type relationship, and ruthless, faceless opponent.
For example, Emma wants to publicise the fact that EvilCorp is dumping poisoness waste in the water and the local children are being afflicted with horrible diseases that the parents can’t afford to treat and EvilCorp puts publicity, lawyers and hardmen in her way.
The protagonist has a small amount of control over how they can navigate the towering obstacles thrown in their path and force the hand of the organisation.
Based on conflict with random, uncontrollable factors. Such as weather, freak natural phenomenon,computer malfunction, accidents etc. These are usually better used as incidental factors or to assist with initial story set up, rather than as main story conflicts, because there is so little control, it can feel a bit hopeless or arbitrary – and it’s hard to get real passionate hate for a mindless things that have no emotions or desires themselves.
For example, Freddy wants to get to the hospital where his wife is having his baby, when a freak snowstorm closes all the roads.
The protagonist has no control over how external conflicts play out.
Summary of conflict