7 Types of Conflict in Literature Worth Exploring

Before writing your next book or short story, make sure you understand the different types of conflict in literature and how they affect your writing.

When writing a novel or short story, you are going to want to create some sort of conflict in the narrative. Conflict is what keeps readers engaged and makes the story feel more personal.

As a writer, you have many types of conflict in literature to study that you can choose from in your own writing.

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Exploring The Different Types Of Conflict In Literature

Types of conflict in literature worth exploring

Without conflict, writing and literature would be incredibly boring. Your main character needs to go on a journey, and that journey needs to involve some sort of problem. Literary conflict is what keeps people turning the pages of their favorite book.

As you learn to write fiction, you can position yourself among the best authors by learning to write conflict into your story. Here are 7 different types of conflict to consider. 

1. Character Vs. Self

The Character vs. Self or Man vs. Self conflict pits the main character against their own feelings and desires. Often, this is an internal battle between good and evil. The main character may have a noble goal, but also an inborn desire that conflicts with that goal. 

The dog in The Call of the Wild is a classic example of this, though he isn't a man, because he finds himself torn between his desire to live in the wild and his desire to live a domesticated life. The entire book explores this pull between wild and domestic, until at last he gives in to the call of the wild.

Sale
The Call of the Wild (Reader's Library Classics)
  • London, Jack (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 106 Pages - 02/18/2021 (Publication Date) - Reader's Library Classics (Publisher)

2. Character vs. Character

Character vs. Character may be one of the most obvious types of conflict in a story. When one person battles another person, such as in a good guy versus bad guy tale, it is a form of external conflict.

This is found in many types of classic literature, but the ongoing fight between Javert and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is a classic example. Most of the time the protagonist is the good guy and his enemy is the main source of conflict in the story, driving the action from start to conclusion.

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Les Miserables: An Engaging Visual Journey (Visual Journey Series)
  • Hugo, Victor (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 02/09/2021 (Publication Date) - Tyndale House Publishers (Publisher)

3. Person Vs. Society 

Sometimes the best story is not the person against person, but rather a Man vs. Society style of conflict. This is commonly found in dystopian literature where the protagonist is fighting against a government construct that is unfair or dictatorial. It can also be found in stories that follow someone rising out of poverty or another similar difficult to find success.

Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games fought this type of battle. She took on an entire societal structure when she fought against the idea of being a tribute and offering herself up as a sacrifice for a tyrannical government. 

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The Hunger Games (Book 1)
  • The Hunger Games (Book 1)
  • Suzanne Collins (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 07/03/2010 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Press (Publisher)

4. Character Vs. Fate

In a Man vs. Fate story, the main character fights against what appears to be an unavoidable fate. He must persevere to change his destiny into something else, even when it seems impossible. 

This type of conflict shows up often in Greek tragedies, such as Odysseus. In his story, Odysseus must discover a way out of his fate of marrying his own mother and avoiding the wrath of Poseidon. 

5. Man Vs. Technology

In dystopian and science fiction narratives, the central character conflict may be not a person against a natural force or another person, but rather against the growing force of technology. In Man Vs. Technology literature, the technology begins to take on a life and sentience of its own, and the human characters must fight against it. 

Frankenstein is one of the first works to show this type of conflict. The technology in this work created the man-like monster that is central to the overall conflict. 

Frankenstein
  • Shelley, Mary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 118 Pages - 12/08/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

6. Man Vs. Nature

Nature is a force to be reckoned with, and this Man vs. Nature conflict pits humans against natural disasters and other forces of nature. These can be weather, animals, illness or some other natural force.

Whether the natural force is an animal, as in the whale in Moby Dick an illness, such as cancer in The Fault in Our Stars, or natural wonder, such as the ocean in The Old Man and the Sea, this type of external conflict shows how finite man can survive against a mighty natural force.

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The Old Man and The Sea, Book Cover May Vary
  • Scribner
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 05/05/1995 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

7. Person Vs. the Unknown

Another type of conflict that is common in science fiction, Person vs. the Unknown often shows an external conflict between a person something they are not aware exists. This can be an extraterrestrial being or a metaphysical force. Part of the conflict is the fact that the characters must learn about the unknown entity in order to fight it.

H.G. Wells used this type of conflict in The War of the Worlds. When the aliens landed on earth, scientists had to scramble to learn about them to fight successfully.

The War of the Worlds
  • Wells, H. G. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 156 Pages - 12/04/2020 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

A Final Word On Types Of Conflict In Literature

Without conflict, fiction writing would be very boring. Creative writing involves weaving a story around a central conflict. The conflict can be an internal conflict with the character or an external conflict between the character and an outside force.

If you are going to build your fiction writing skills, take the time to understand conflict. By choosing your type of conflict and weaving it into your story, you will create something people want to read.

FAQs on Types of Conflict in Literature

What are the two main types of conflict in literature?

All of the seven types of conflict in literature can be categorized into one of two categories: internal conflict and external conflict.

What is internal and external conflict in literature?

Internal conflict is conflict within a character, often between his evil and wholesome desires. External conflict occurs when an outside force creates conflict against the main character. 

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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