The Heart of Writing

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Creating Conflict

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In order for a plot line to work for your story, there must be some conflict. Your character/protagonist must come to be challenged in order to make his/her journey worthwhile. They are seeking something, whether physical, emotional or even spiritual and it wouldn’t be very interesting if they sailed smoothly through the story without being confronted with a  block in any way, would it?

You’ve chosen what story you’re going to write, you’ve figured out the characters, but why have you chosen this particular time/moment/space to set a story in? What makes this interesting? Why do we care about what happens to your characters? I’m all for unique and perplexing ideas but this is where some of the rules have to come into play, we have these so that our readers can resonate in some way with what your characters are going through.

There are four main types of conflict and working out which one your character is facing helps an awful lot when you get stuck with plot twists and action.

1. Man vs Man (physical) – The main character(s) are struggling with their physical strength against others, forces of nature or animals.

Think war stories for this one or any other type of story where there is a physical battle. Your story may be of the Post-Apocalyptic persuasion or set in the throws of a natural disaster. Either way, this is a test of strength and survival.

2. Man Vs Circumstance – The main character(s) face a change in circumstances, fate that plays a hand in challenging them or life changes suddenly occur.

This is a classic plotline and is usually set on a smaller scale, such as someone being made homeless, losing their job, or finding out that their spouse has been having an affair or falling in love but for whatever reason that they cannot control, they cannot be with that person. This type of conflict is a lot easier to tackle as we’ve all been in some fateful circumstance or other no matter how dramatic or minor. This also forces you to understand how your character psychologically would cope with this and how they will turn their lives around because of it.

3. Man Vs Society – The main character(s) is challenged by ideas, practices or customs of other people.

This type of conflict usually fits in with a political, religious or racial story. Depending on the times, this can be classic for a piece of historical fiction, or can be completely inventive (this could be debated!) such as George Orwell’s 1984. Either way, this conflict causes your characters to feel out of place or alone, leaving them unable to relate to what’s happening around them. In its simplest form, this could just be a coming of age story about a misfit who cannot conform to the ideals of his/her peers.

4. Man Vs Himself/Herself – The main character(s) struggles with himself/herself, with his/her own soul, ideas, physical limitations or choices.

This is a classic conflict for a character who suffers from psychological issues, body issues or mental health issues or  are just generally unhappy with themselves. This is a tricky one to pull off well; you must think about how this character comes to love who they are in the end or at least find a way to cope with themselves. This type of conflict also falls into the arena of addiction – a character that is slipping away through drugs, alchohol or any other type of addiction. Because of this, they are unhappy with who they are or their behaviour.

As said before, these are the main four and there are possibly others that deserve to stand on their own and I would like to include just one other that isn’t always noted as being a main conflict but what I personally think should be, and that is:

5. Man Vs God/Universe – This one doesn’t necessarily have to be about religion or ‘God’ in the Christian sense but it is usually a spiritual quest for the main character(s). They are seeking something ‘higher’, an altered experience or something divine to humble them. They could even be a scientist, trying to understand the workings of our Universe. This type of conflict tackles big questions, the most important one being: What’s the meaning of life? And there usually isn’t an answer, however your character(s) has to be at peace with the conclusions that they come to. If you’d like to explore this one, I would recommend reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho or any other Coelho book actually, this writer has focused his entire works on this type of conflict alone.

Of course, some of these can overlap and that is up to you to decide what the main focus of your story is, but you must come to some resolve even if it isn’t a rosy, happy ending. Don’t open up questions of conflict in your story if you aren’t planning to bring peace to them.

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2 comments on “Creating Conflict

  1. Pingback: Happy or Sad? | Susan Wingate

  2. Pingback: Where are We? | Christina Cole Romance

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